I started this journey when I was 14. I smoked an Onyx Black robusto. Loved it. I grew up in the shadow of a few very successful men, my grand father being one of them. He was an academic, a military man and grew to become a savvy business man. He made mistakes, he was always ready to tell you how he screwed up. But the adage, one step back and four forward couldn't be truer for my grand father. I learned a lot from him. At an arms distance, we shared the love of the leaf. He was a pipe smoker, and I cigars. We never got the opportunity to share it together but the sentiment was there.
In late 2014, a good friend of mine produced his own cigar. I couldn't believe how easy he made it look. I was awe inspired by him, and tell ya truth I looked up to him, and still do today. He's my bro. So he produced this line of boxed pressed powder kegs and opened his shop in Harrison, NY. For me it lit a fuse that would eventually explode a year or so later.
In 2015- after being in Nicaragua for a few months, I started rolling- not very good, but I tried. The more you roll, the better you get. I started to blending. To understand the complexity of each leaf, I spent a great deal of time learning about the various tobaccos and countries that grow them. By end of 2015, I had produced a couple dozen prototype cigars, some of which I repackaged and released in 2016.
In 2016- I decided to nationally release Double Claro Habano, as a single - sort of like the music business - they release a single, then the whole record. I felt, it if worked for that industry it could work here. It's name though, Muestra de TABAC Double Claro Habano Double Figurado is a bit long, so I shortened it to MDT-DCH for my FDA registration. What this was, was the most cutting edge, most obscure creation in my portfolio. I felt like I needed to stand out in an industry of common sizes.
2016 - I'm on fire. It's pouring out of me. I'm like "what if we...." so to say the least if the FDA allows me to continue to invent I've got some really creative concepts for down the road.
2017 - I was introduced to Guillermo Pena owner of La Perla Tabacalera (now Las Villas Cigars S.A.) in Esteli, Nicaragua. A Cuban American, who was born in a town of the best cigar rollers Las Villas in Santa Clara region of Cuba.. It was a generational hand me down. Gui worked for Don Pepin for a short few years, to eventually opened his own factory. It's there where I developed a relationship and began producing. A good friend, and seasoned cigar maker told me that the one thing I should never do, "is leave anything to chance. Once a box has been printed it can't be reprinted. You need to be sure that every step of the manufacturing process is exactly the way you want it." Which is why I visit the factory between three and five times per year. Leave nothing to email.
2017 - was a odd year. I was finally producing on a national level, with only 20 accounts. I was selling. I had to think about the other side of the business. So I set out on what is now called the Southwest Cigar Road Show. Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada. I was able to open key accounts in those markets. I then did the New York tri-state area opening about 10+ accounts. 2017 turned out to be a good year for opening accounts, nearly 40 by year end. I was back and forth to Nicaragua all year working on 2018 releases, and in 2019 releases for 2020.
2018 - As mentioned, I am spending a lot of time in Nicaragua. between the home made lechon and goat, plantains and moros de christianos and smoking 20 cigars a day blending. I needed to further my knowledge - I was spending more time at the farm. I wanted to learn the farm part of this. So here I am farmer pat, minus the overalls in Condega and sure enough working with a farmer who has taken this corojo seed I found from a location not disclosed. It yield me two full pilons. And I decided to make my own version of a "patoon" what is a patoon? It's a fermentation liquid used in the fermentation of tobacco. Some have heard me describe this process when I talk about Saciar and Hoy Vivo, which are cigars that contain this tobacco. But the coolest part of this and because I'm a small boutique maker, is that 10,000 pounds of tobacco goes a long long way. So to age that tobacco after you've fermented it for years (keeping a good amount of it in bales waiting for future production.) Needlessness to say, I took about 500 pounds of my special leaf and collaborated with Ernesto Carrillo (E.P. Carrillo) to produce the first liga of Hoy Vivo in a 56x6 Cabinet box of 50. Saciar which is blend #18 was also born this year.
2020- what a shit show. It was surprisingly my best year for sales. Virtual cigar events? Suck! I was, am fortunate to have not gotten Covid-19. I was out and about, all year long. Between opening my first cigar shop, to the release of my most popular cigar yet Milk & Honey. 2020 has proven to be a mixed bag of nuts.
2021- Has been a game changer. My brand release of Milk & Honey has proven to be the one. I decided that it was time to venture into the trade show side of marketing and with that I secured a booth at TPE (Tobacco Plus Expo) in Las Vegas. What I can tell you is, ask a lot of questions. So many additional fees and costs than just the booth fee. It was maddening trying to figure our a cost effective booth design. Getting it there. Getting it set up. Boston Jimmy of Stogie Press photo documented the process and wrote about the trials and tribulation I went thru to pull this off. Check it out. STOGIE PRESS
2022 - What a shit show of a year!! I not only attended and put on two fantastic trade shows and suite parties at both TPE and PCA. I did open a few accounts a lot less than advertised. In the moment I was having a great time but after I started to do the accounting I found that they are a larger waste of my time and money than any form of marketing I could ever have spent or have spent!!!! The combined losses from those trade shows could have afforded me a full color page in Cigar Aficionado and would have likely been better exposure. I don't know that I'll be doing a trade show again, or any other type of marketing event where I have to donate 800 cigars so that the event promoters can make their money - sorry. Can't do it. I'm too small a brand for this kind of crazy. The promises to "rate" my cigars from two rather large magazines (C&P/AC) failed to deliver. So many rumors about how to get rated. Pay to Play is all I ever hear. Isn't there anyone out there that's legit? Do what you say you're going to do. If I got high rates think about the sales I'd make potentially how that would likely generate ad sales, but I guess I've got it figured wrong. I did however go on to rise in accounts and oddly they didn't come from trade shows. Do you know how I did it? I got in my beast of a truck and drove 6600 miles around the country shaking hands with consumers, opening new accounts and rolling cigars! I had a blast. And it paid off, sufficiently to make the end of the year a total breakeven! No loss. No profit either but NO LOSS! "Well done!" I hear one of my mentors say in his posh British accent.
2023 - I have taken a break this year from trade shows. I'm spending a bit more time on the road. I have finally been back to Nicaragua after an 18-month hiatus. I'm back at curating some interesting things. Tulsa King is awesome, I made this really awesome belt buckle combo -I'm offering the first box, signed plus the buckle for a starting bid of $500.00. There are has been a couple posts on this on my social media. The winner won't be announced till September. I don't know if you know who Raul Disla is, but he's a bit of legend in our industry - he and I met for coffee when I was Esteli and chatted about growing some seed together at his brothers farm this December. (Super excited about this!!) Perhaps there is a collaboration in the works. Will see. In the meantime, I am focused on two new iterations of Milk & Honey...