Elementor #2034

The Prometheus brand announces the distribution of the Fuente Fuente Opus X Heaven and Earth Rare Black Double Corona

Fuente Fuente Opus X The Lost City Double Robusto Tubo

The Prometheus brand announces the distribution of the Fuente Fuente Opus X Heaven and Earth Rare Black Double Corona

The Prometheus brand announces the distribution of the Fuente Fuente Opus X Heaven and Earth Rare Black Double Corona.

This is the second module developed for the “Rare Black” line, thus joining the initial version in its 6 7/8 × 44 format, referenced as Rare Black Torpedo. The new vitola was part of the Fuente cigar series whose release was announced for the year 2020. However, the line had not yet appeared on the market before today. The “Rare Black Prometheus” will be sold for US $ 65 per piece in travel humidors containing 10 cigars.

The Rare Black line is part of the Fuente aged selection range, a partnership between the brands of Arturo Fuente and Prometheus, manufacturer of cigar accessories. Much of the proceeds from the sale will go to The Cigar Family Charitable Foundation, which oversees a school, clinic and a variety of programs in the Dominican Republic.

Elementor #2026

Arturo Fuente adds modules to his Rare Pink edition

Arturo Fuente announces the addition of three new sizes to its Rare Pink line. Now, a total of seven cigars make up this extraordinary line, dedicated to the American market.

The first two vitolas should arrive in October: 3 3/4 x 54 and 7 1/4 x 53. Like the other sizes in the range, these will be perfectos.

Carlos “Carlito” Fuente Jr. told Halfwheel that there is also another mod, which he describes as a “Lancero Figurado” which will arrive “several months after” October.

The line, officially known as the Rare Pinks Vintage 1960’s Series, was launched at the end of 2020. The entire line sports an Ecuadorian wrapper on a mixture of tripe tobaccos with a well-preserved recipe, including tobacco from Fuente farms in Nicaragua.

For every box sold, the company will donate $ 13 to the American Cancer Society-Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. Liana Fuente, Carlito’s wife is the genesis of the awareness and fundraising effort through this and other projects.

Fuente made it clear when launching the Rare Pink line that there would be more sizes. The four original sizes and their selling price in US dollars are as follows:

Arturo Fuente Rare Pink Short Story (4 x 42/49) – $ 7.40
Arturo Fuente Rare Pink Signature (6 x 46) – $ 9.95
Arturo Fuente Rare Pink Work of Art (4 7/8 x 46/60) – $ 10.35
Arturo Fuente Rare Pink Happy Ending (5 1/2 x 53) – 11.85

Release of the Davidoff Dominicana line

Davidoff is proud to announce the release of the Davidoff Dominicana Limited Release, a new line of cigars as vibrant and exhilarating as the Dominican Republic itself. A cigar made exclusively from vintage tobacco that will surprise you with a rich taste experience, always with the same elegance, signature of the brand.

The brand pursues its mission by creating the most remarkable smoking experience possible. Market leader, Davidoff is launching a line whose vintage tobacco blends create a unique tasting experience, evoking the very essence of a colorful Dominican culture.

“The Davidoff brand is entirely devoted to its manufacture of refined and high-end cigars. Honoring our heritage, we have created the Dominicana line which reflects the vitality and Dominican culture in all its colors. In order to accomplish this considerable task, our master blenders combined five varieties of Dominican tobacco with an Ecuadorian sub-wrapper, completing the creation with a Dominican wrapper Yamasá H-133, the latter having been used in the making of the Puro d line. ‘oro which is no longer on the market. We are delighted to have succeeded in developing a cigar that combines the complexity of vintage aromas with the sweetness and elegance of the “white Band” collection which captures in a cigar all the Dominican joie de vivre. The Davidoff dominicanatestifies not only to the excellence and expertise of our brand in its craftsmanship, while attesting to the size of our collection of vintage tobaccos. The dominicana tobacco, harvested in 2014, has been carefully aged for more than six years, until it is mixed in this cigar, testifying to all the daring behind our vintage offers. Indeed, this cigar emphasizes what sets Davidoff apart in the market, and is rightly appreciated and valued by aficionados around the world, witnesses of our tireless efforts to always satisfy our customers with unique proposals. ” says Edward Simon, Head of Marketing Department at Oettinger Davidoff AG.

An extraordinary tasting experience 

The Davidoff Dominicanaoffers a refined and rich experience, adding to the portfolio of cigars that feature the now iconic white ring. The dominicana is crowned with a “pigtail” at the end, which underlines the extraordinary skills of the brand’s torcedors. At its foot, a golden ring that reveals the year of harvest of these tobacco. In order to acquire the vibrant sensation in taste, of what lies at the origin of Dominican culture, Davidoff’s master blenders opened the tobacco safes to demonstrate the brand’s boldness. The blends of these tobaccos over six years old offer a range of complex and particularly pleasant flavors. The first third seduces with notes of fresh spices brought by the Yamasa Visus tobacco tripe complemented by touches of black pepper and oak. The second third offers creamy notes carrying aromas of leather and chocolate. The last third concludes the tasting with flavors of dried fruits combined with aromas of oak and spices. The aging process of this 2014 harvest allows for an incomparable smoke experience.

Limited availability on a range of three formats with special packaging 

Faithful to the promise of impeccable craftsmanship, the Davidoff Dominicana line will be available to aficionados while the stock of vintage tobacco that constitutes it is exhausted. To ensure the cigars arrive in top condition while optimizing flavor development, the cigars were rolled 12 months prior to the release of the line. This period of final maturation ensures a moment of happiness for all aficionados who choose to taste one of these exclusive cigars. The line consists of three formats adapted to individual preferences: a Toro, a Robusto and a Robusto short. The vitolas are arranged in boxes of ten, in packaging that emphasizes the mixture of vintage tobacco with a sticker. 

  • Cape: Hybrid 257 Dominican Republic
  • Undercoat: Hybrid 151 from Ecuador
  • Tripe: San Vicente Visus, San Vicente Mejorado Seco, Piloto Visus, Dominican Corojo 99, Seco and Yamasá Visus of the Dominican Republic

Formats

  • Toro: RG 54 x 6 “/ Ø 2.2 cm x 15.2 cm
  • Robusto: RG 52 x 5 1/8 “/ Ø 2.1 cm x 13 cm
  • Robusto shorts: RG 50 x 4 “/ Ø 2 cm x 10.2 cm

Availability

From May 2021, the Davidoff Dominicana Limited Release line will be available for aggregate stores.

About Oettinger Davidoff

The Davidoff Oettinger group is a family institution whose origins date back to 1875. Thus, with sales reaching 450 million Swiss francs and 3,100 employees around the world, the company still considers itself to be a family heritage today. . Davidoff is dedicated to both the production, distribution and marketing of premium cigars. International distributor of premium quality brands such as Davidoff, Avo, Camacho, Cusano, Griffin’s, Private Stock, Zino and Zino Platinum, the Oettinger Davidoff group is also agent for a multitude of brands in many countries like Haribo for Switzerland. The company’s approach is deeply rooted in a philosophy of integration, managing all the parameters from the harvest to the arrival in the store of the products.

Limited availability 

The brand states that the line will be produced while stocks last from the 2014 tobacco harvest used in this blend.

Elementor #2012

Romeo Y Julieta Club Kings - A new version for the Swiss market "Habanos Línea Retro

Next week, a new version of the Romeo Y Julieta Club Kings will finally appear on the civet shelf.

At the end of 2017, Habanos SA announced the Habanos Línea Retro, consisting of the Capitols Partagas and the Romeo Y Julieta Club Kings. Both cigars are offered in the classic Marevas Corona format , a 5 1/12 (129 mm) x 42. The Club Kings was discontinued in the 1980s.

This will in fact be the third different version of Romeo y Julieta offered in this size, joining the Romeo y Julieta Petit Coronas and the Cedros de Luxe No.3.

Intertabak AG, the Swiss distributor of Cuban cigars, has announced that the Romeo Y Julieta Club Kings will arrive at La Casa del Habano franchises on February 19 and at Habanos specialty shops on February 26.

The price is set at CHF 62.50 ($64.20) per box of five.

 

Elementor #2003

Habanos announces the release of three limited editions

Habanos announces the release of three limited editions

Last week, we privileged an online Habanos event, replacing the traditional Habanos festival normally held in Cuba around February.

The resources made available for this event were up to our expectations. The year 2021 had been announced as the Cohiba year, in honour of the 55th anniversary of the iconic brand, and we were not disappointed. Indeed, not too surprisingly, of the three Edicion limitada announced during the week, the Edicion Limitada 55 anniversario Cohiba was the star.

The Cohiba 55 aniversario is a 150 × 57 parejo cigar known as “Victoria”. It will be sold in boxes of 10, manufactured from tobacco at least two years old.

 

Differentiating itself from other Edición Limitada, the cigar holds a third ring that recalls the brand’s 55ᵉ anniversary in beautiful gold writing on a black background.

The second Edición Limitada announced during the Habanos Festival is from the brand Hoyo de Monterrey. The limited edition No. 4 measures 145 mm x 55, a module known as the Maravillas, No. 4. This puro is also made of tobacco aged for more than two years and will be sold in boxes of 10 cigars.

The latest Edicón Limitada presented during Habanos World days is the Bolivar Regentes which measures 130mm x52, a module known as discretos. Unlike the other two, this edition will be sold in boxes of 25. Like the other two editions, the tobaccos in this cigar are two years old.

Historically, we know that Edición Limitada are more likely to be released in the year of their announcement, unlike most new Cuban cigars for which the waiting times are often prolonged. However, there is no guarantee that we will see these cigars on our shelves before the end of the year considering that the Edicíon Limitada announced in 2020, “Partagas Legado” is still not available.

Elementor #1891

BEST PLACE TO BUY CIGARS

Cigars Across America: U.S. Cigar Makers

An intense August heat blows in through the narrow doorway of a dimly lit, hallway-shaped store in Union City, New Jersey. A few yellowing posters look as if they are melting into the stucco walls behind them. The air inside is thick with the aroma of cured tobacco and recently smoked cigars. On a tabletop blackened by oily wrapper leaf and scarred by thousands of tiny knife cuts, an old man’s hands move with precise regularity, rolling a narrow, long panetela cigar while he talks with a fellow roller.

At the front of the store, a customer patiently leans on the wobbly, glass-fronted display case. Eventually a middle-aged woman gets up from her chair where she has been banding cigars and shows the customer a cigar-shape chart. No words are exchanged–they don’t speak the same language–but the man points to the panetela cigar in the photo and holds up four fingers. “Quatro?” the woman asks. The customer nods, but when she pokes a hand into the case to grab four dried-out panetelas, the man says, “No, no!” and points wildly at the rolling table where three bundles of hour-old panetelas are resting. She slowly relents and retrieves four cigars from one of the bundles. The man hands the woman $4 and some change and lights up in a cloud of strong, rich smoke, which follows him out onto the boiling sidewalk.

At one time, a transaction like the one described above was common in large and small-town America. In 1905 there were 80,000 cigar-manufacturing businesses in the United States. Most of these were small drugstore-type shops where families sat and rolled cigars and sold them immediately.

Today, though buying a newly rolled cigar isn’t as easy as it used to be, handmade, long-filler cigars can be purchased for about $1 each on certain streets in a few American cities. And the experience of smoking what was just rolled in front of you is something every cigar aficionado should try.

Finding a chinchal (a Cuban term meaning “sweatshop,” though the connotation is less derogatory in the world of cigars) is only half the battle. In each city, the history of the cigar business invariably dictates both the kind and quality of cigars being made today. In three markets–Miami; Union City, New Jersey; and Tampa, Florida–the local production of cigars also is determined by the availability of tobacco, the vitality of the local smokers’ market and the primary difficulty: hiring and keeping skilled cigar makers. But this is nothing new. As one roller put it, making cigars “is a life’s work.” That work is different in each city and, accordingly, in each chinchal, and the cigars reflect a distinctive character of place.

The hand-rolled cigar industry in Miami existed in one form or another for at least 100 years prior to the Revolution in Cuba. But it was Castro’s rise to power that provided the impetus for making cigars in Miami. Beyond easy access to Central and South American tobacco, the South Florida location has given Miami first crack at fleeing Cuban cigar makers–still considered to be the most talented in the world.

As more Cubans left their homeland bound for Miami’s Little Havana, the once dormant section of town became a dynamic center of economic and social vitality. The new arrivals smoked more cigars per capita than any other group of Americans and also preferred freshly rolled product. Those factors drove chinchal-production levels up.

The new arrivals also demanded something similar to what they had smoked back home: a strong, fast-burning cigar. Many of the blends commonly found in Miami’s chinchal-produced cigars replicate that style, and explain the popularity of short-filler cigars, which are cheaper and pack a lot of smoke because they burn much faster.

Makers in Miami claim to use Dominican seed tobacco as filler, a Mexican binder and either Ecuador-grown Sumatra seed wrapper or Connecticut shade grown in the United States. These two blends, which are similar in almost every Miami chinchal, result in a relatively strong smoke, with some pleasant spiciness. However, most cigars made here lack a certain body in the smoke. In a cigar that hasn’t been aged and cured for very long and in which the tobaccos have not had time to marry, nothing, it seems, can replace the sharp pungency of Honduran tobacco.

It should be noted that the chinchales listed below are a small sampling of what can be found in Miami. There are several more, some of them even well known to many cigar smokers. However, these owners were suspicious of the publicity or any possible critique and refused interviews or visits.

Antelo Cigars in Little Havana is owned by Arnaldo Laurencio, who speaks a smattering of English. His immediate, excitable love of the business gives Antelo an amicable feeling missing in other chinchales. Equally rare, Antelo makes several different blends for its cigars. And Antelo employs about 15 rollers, the most, next to El Credito (La Gloria Cubana and El Rico Habano) in Miami. The rollers sit four to a row, each rolling table connected to the next. Seen from behind, the workers’ hands are a blur in the otherwise sedate one-room shop. They roll and talk quietly to one another in Spanish.

Berta Davila, a spirited woman in her mid-50s, sits toward the back of the room, separating wrapper leaves according to color, removing the center stem once the leaves are categorized. The leaves are then bundled in sets of 52. The two extra leaves (cigars are usually bundled in sets of 50 or 25) are added “in case a wrapper is broken or the cigar maker wants to smoke one,” according to Laurencio. (Rollers are each entitled to three cigars at the end of the day, and they may smoke all day while working.)

There is a strong feeling of community at Antelo. The workers are old friends and even in silence they seem at ease with one another. Still, most of the workers at Antelo echo a common sentiment heard in Little Havana: “If Castro fell, the next day we’d go running back.” In this case, the speaker is Antonio Concepcion, a roller in his mid-50s who was forced to leave a pregnant wife in Cuba “for political reasons.”

Concepcion is quick to say that he has grown to like the perks of making cigars in America: “I like the air-conditioning in the U.S.” This is one of the advantages to rolling cigars in a First World country. Yet in Honduras, the Dominican Republic and at one time in Cuba, cigar rollers were respected craftsmen, and even today their wage can support a family. But in Miami, at places like Antelo where the art is appreciated, the pay only supplements retirement funds or Social Security benefits. It is not a job for the young, not even for the children of these rollers. Most here, like Petra Hurtado, are happy that her children don’t smoke or make cigars. Hurtado’s son is a policeman, and she clearly has no regrets that the family tradition will die with her.

On the other side of Little Havana, only a five-minute drive away, is El Canelo (“the cockfighter”). It is a small shop, employing four to six rollers, depending on the pace of business. Perhaps the most dignified of all rollers to be found in Miami (also one of the more skillful makers of panetelas) is Adolfo Cuevas, who works here. Cuevas came to Miami when he was 48. A judge in Havana, Cuevas was forced to make a fresh start. He returned to the job of rolling cigars, which is how he worked his way through law school. Now 78, Cuevas augments retirement income by rolling at El Canelo, and his panetelas have the tightly rolled appearance of Cohiba Lanceros.

Cuevas’ boss, Orlando Rodriguez, the owner of El Canelo, is a quiet salesman. He will show you the humidor, but he doesn’t force anything on you. And he is relaxed about his Cuban heritage, too. “Even if Castro fell, at my age, what am I going to do in Cuba?” Rodriguez did say he would use Cuban tobacco if it ever becomes available. Clearly, however, he doesn’t need to change his blend. Rodriguez claims that almost all his customers are “Americans” (not Cuban-Americans), and he seems very content with the job he is doing. For a mere $17 for 25 panetelas, it is not hard to see why business is humming.

Across the street from El Pub, a diner that has become an institution in Little Havana, it is hot and sticky in the bright, tidy shop of Moore & Bode. Despite the lack of air-conditioning, the reserved and very serene Sharon Moore Bode seems undaunted by the heat. But she is used to defying expectations. An enigma in the cigar business, Bode is not only a woman, but a Caucasian with a limited understanding of Spanish. Her entrée into the business has as much to do with her husband, Roberto Bode, a Cuban-born exile, as her own artistic longings. According to Sharon Moore Bode, “art is the No. 1 reason for being in the business.”

Moore & Bode cigars are truly works of art, especially the small and large pyramids, 5 1/2 and 7 1/2 inches long, respectively. They also are pricier than cigars made at other chinchales. Bode, again acting very American and untraditional, justifies the high prices by saying that her rollers are paid more than those at other shops. “The bottom line is that other rollers in Miami are paid about $200 per 1,000 cigars, while we pay about $650 per 1,000.”

Bode claims that the industry is dying in the United States because rollers are underpaid. “The owner eats out of the same rice bowl as the cigar maker,” she says, and she “abhors” a quota system where each roller is required to make a certain number of cigars for a fixed price. Bode pays by the hour, a very unusual practice in the old world of cigar making.

Despite her husband’s desire that she take up the mainstream career of stockbroker, Bode runs the shop, buys the tobacco and is unabashedly proud to turn some heads in the business. “We import our own leaf. I stand in line at customs with my little daughter, Margarite. I’m a little lady among all the guys. I wait my turn and select my own leaves.” But Bode denies any grand pretense: “We are not a mass-produced cigar–we never desire to be.” Still, Bode will not reveal the secret of her blend, which she guards with the same quiet but firm politeness she most certainly uses when buying tobacco.

Chavelo is nothing like Moore & Bode. Large, dimly lit, with an old patriarch, Mariano Martinez, in charge, it is a typical chinchal. Despite the modest production capacity of the place (800 cigars a day), there is a walk-in humidor, and Chavelo is more modern than it appears. Mario Martinez, the owner’s son, has created slick brochures that advertise 800-numbers and invite customers to use credit cards.

Mario Martinez is unassuming. A tall man in his mid-30s, he dutifully stands by and translates his father’s Spanish. Mario explains that the elder Martinez began Chavelo in Cuba in 1955, but finally left in 1972 with his wife and son–and not a shred of his original business. Despite his father’s uphill struggle to make something in the United States, Mario is uninterested in taking over. “I could maintain the business,” Mario acknowledges, “but there’s experience I don’t have. I can’t buy that from my father. That, only time can give you.”

Gazing across the Hudson River from Pier 78 in Manhattan, the heart of Union City, New Jersey, is not visible, but a few relics of once grandiose summer homes are outlined on top of the cliffs. A brief ferry ride can alter this first impression. Once on the bustling streets of Union City, the community is vibrant, relatively young and has the same nuances of any ethnic American neighborhood. It has a proud cigar history, too.

Unlike Miami, much of the Cuban population came to Union City long before Castro. These new Americans arrived in the ’20s and ’30s at the behest of American cigar manufacturers. Labor prices skyrocketed in Cuba because of unionization. To maintain profits, major corporations like American Tobacco shifted operations onshore to places like Trenton, New Jersey, and Union City–beating the unions while still importing cured tobacco from Cuba (which was taxed at 10 percent rather than the exorbitant 100 percent rate on finished cigars). A few decades later, labor prices at home would escalate, and major manufacturers would shift their operations back to the Caribbean; but the Cuban community in New Jersey stayed behind to make cigars for its own consumption–and occasional outsiders.

La Isla (“the Island”) is a cigar factory that looks more like a one-chair barbershop. There is an almost bare counter display–something like the way state stores looked in television images from the former Soviet Union–and to the left, three rollers sit so close they literally touch shoulders as they make cigars and talk quietly. They gaze at their gringo guests with a bit of wariness.

In the back, a bathroom doubles as a makeshift kitchen, with an ancient, two-burner stovetop keeping the morning coffee warm. The presses and molds used to hold and shape finished cigars look as old as the burners, and Berto Ale, the owner of La Isla, says he cannot remember when they were purchased, but he speculates that they have been around since 1970. At the front on the unadorned counter, three old Partagas boxes hold whatever the three rollers produce daily. However, if you look through the glass and don’t see what you want, don’t be shy. Persistence pays at La Isla. If you like what you see on the rollers’ table, ask for it. If your Spanish is rusty, point.

Berto Ale has owned the business for eight years. At 58, he is relatively young for this segment of the cigar industry, which is dominated by 70-year-old men. Still, his wife Elsie, who runs the outlet store in Manhattan (May Rosa) laments that both stores will be gone in a few years. “My children don’t want to have anything to do with the business, and even if we sell the store, the new owners wouldn’t be able to find workers.”

A few blocks from the heavily trafficked streets of downtown Union City, Boquilla Cigar looks abandoned. Inside, that feeling doesn’t change much. Composed of little more than a countertop, four walls and a three-dimensional plastic relief of the Last Supper, a healthy skepticism about the quality of the product seems in order. But after speaking with the very genial owner, José Suarez, and his tiny staff, the expectations grow. Suarez was a former employee of Rolando Reyes Sr. (see Cuba Aliados, below) in Cuba and learned to roll cigars in his factory.

Now, some 25 years later, Suarez is making cigars to compete with the cheap, short-filler bundle cigars sold in every drugstore in Union City. He uses the same blend for each size: filler from Honduras or the Dominican Republic, binder from Brazil or Mexico and Mexican wrapper because, according to Suarez, “it is the strongest,” and the locals like strong cigars. Suarez says most of his clients are older, and most like a soberano or Churchill size. They also like the price; 25 soberanos, 7 1/2 by 52 ring gauge, go for a very modest $30.

Having a look around Aliados is a look into the future, or would-be future, of every chinchal in the United States. Cigars are no longer made here, they are manufactured in Honduras, with a “showpiece” roller who comes in occasionally yet adds little to the massive stock of Aliados cigars. Still, the enticing aroma of spicy tobacco permeates the walls of the upstairs room of this cigar store, and in a shed out back 20,000 cigars are aging. Most of what is sold here are Cuba Aliados, which explains the smell; these Honduran-made cigars are very fresh and the aroma is much stronger for that reason.

Rolando Reyes Jr. Runs the shop in Union City while his father oversees the operation in Honduras. According to the younger Reyes, his father began working in the cigar business when he was 17, as an unpaid apprentice for Cuba Aliados, an obscure Cuban brand made in Sancti-Spiritus, a city about 200 miles southeast of Havana. After seven years of unpaid work, Reyes earned the respect of the old woman who owned Aliados. She gave him the rights to the brand when she became ill, and Reyes eventually moved the company to Havana. “He had a hard time making cigars there,” says the younger Reyes. Eventually though, Partagas, Por Larrañaga, El Rey del Mundo, and H. Upmann began to buy cigars from Reyes and labal them with their own brands. Business was booming.

And despite the rise of the Castro regime, Reyes managed to keep his business until 1968. “All the Cubans in Cuba kept on saying the same thing: ‘He’ll fall next year’.” When the Cuban government took over “they took everything–even the chairs,” says the younger Reyes, his voice shaded with bitterness.

When the elder Reyes moved to the United States, he chose to raise his family in Union City. “My uncle lent my dad $500 to start his business in 1970. My father had one, two, three cigar makers at the most here. My father was working in the day in the store and at night in a knitting factory.”

But the elder Reyes encountered the same problems all present-day owners have. “We started making the cigars here in 1974. We didn’t have enough cigars for the customers because we couldn’t get enough makers. So we moved. First to the D.R. And then to Miami. In Miami, we went in 1979. We opened, and we had a lot of cigar makers. But we still didn’t have enough cigars being made,” recounts the younger Reyes.

To keep up with demand, Cuba Aliados went to Honduras in 1988 and solved their labor problems for good. “Face it. In Honduras there are cigar makers who are younger; there’s always people learning because you can make good money on it.” And Reyes says it is simply easier to make cigars where the tobacco is grown. His customers keep coming back. “I still have the same customers I had 15 years ago. Even if they move away, they send for the cigars from there.”

The Tampa horizon is littered with them. Walk up three stories in any Ybor City building, and as far as the eye can see, there are giant brick factories, each running longitudinally, from north to south, and each, without much exception, is empty. In many ways Ybor City is a cigar-industry ghost town; the ghost of Vincente Ybor is the namesake for this section of Tampa.

Ybor moved a thriving Key West cigar business north to Tampa in the mid-1860s. His goal was to build a company town where every form of sustenance was provided by the Principe de Gales (Prince of Wales) factory. But labor unrest delayed the factory’s debut, and rival Flor de Sanchez & Haya was the first factory to produce cigars in Tampa.

But it was Ybor who first dreamed of a cigar town, and eventually Tampa grew to become the center of worldwide cigar production. That dream has since faded, and only M&N Cigar Manufacturers (United States distributors of Arturo Fuente and Cuesta-Rey brands under the cooperative FANCO), has survived. Of course, there are still a few chinchales, or “buckeyes,” as they are known locally. According to Stanford Newman, chairman of M&N, the term buckeye came from Ohio when his father’s business (and many other cigar factories) moved operations to Florida. A buckeye in Ohio is “a nut that’s too small,” says Newman.

Whether you call the factory a buckeye or a chinchal, the Vincent & Tampa Cigar Co. Is certainly small and old. On the site of the now-defunct Eden cigar factory, Vincent is a one-story brick structure that’s seen better days. Inside, in the very back around some automated bunching machines and a large fumigation locker, six elderly women sit at their tables, rolling and not talking. Ruilovo Vincent and his wife Ida are side by side; he stands and bunches cigars, pressing them into molds while she takes them from the molds and forms wrapper leaf over their oblong surfaces.

Past retirement age, both Vincents are natives of Tampa, though they speak less English than Spanish. Their families and the families of almost every roller I met in Tampa were locals; but the language of cigars is Spanish, not English, so it was unnecessary for these people to learn what they would rarely speak.

The cigars here range from robusto-sized Barons at 5 1/2 inches by a 48 ring gauge to a soberano shape called the Supreme, 8 inches by a 52 ring. Regardless of shape, the blend is constant.

Much of the business is conducted by mail, yet today a customer strolls in. Vincent leaves his wife’s side to help the customer, who happens to be from New Jersey and a customer of Boquilla in Union City. “These cigars are very good. But Boquilla is the only good cigar place in New Jersey, which is why I go there,” says Chris Mara. Mara buys a couple of bundles in two different sizes after smoking one cigar just to test it.

Rodriguez & Menendez is the antithesis of the vibrant chinchales found in Miami or Union City. Isaac Rodriguez, 72, is the remaining half of the partnership at Rodriguez & Menendez. He stands alone in the center of the shop and says he will no longer take new customers through the mail, but doesn’t mind if customers stop by. As we speak, a faithful regular enters, walks straight past the counter into the back of the store and grabs a bundle of the Dominican-made cigars. He pays and thanks Rodriguez. The whole transaction takes less than two minutes, held up only momentarily as Rodriguez digs for change in an old cigar box used as a cash register.

Rodriguez still makes about 300 cigars here a day, but the rest are rolled in the Dominican Republic and imported with the R&M band.

Once a master roller at the Havana Partagas factory, Rodriguez is not without pride, but he says, “I am old and tired. I couldn’t fill many new orders now, and I don’t really want to.”

Like Sharon Moore Bode in Miami, Bob Schear in Las Vegas is an anomaly in the modern American cigar making business. Like Bode, Schear is a gringo in a field dominated by first and second-generation Latin Americans–most of them from Cuba. But Schear, an avid smoker since he was 18, never gave his heritage a thought when he started Don Pablo seven years ago. “I came through Vegas on business, and I couldn’t find a decent cigar.” Schear and a friend saw the immense potential of the tourist market in Las Vegas and set up shop in 1986 across the street from the Stardust hotel.

At first, according to Schear, things weren’t easy. “If I had known what it would take, I wouldn’t do it again.” Now, however, Schear has more than 6,000 mail-order customers worldwide, most of whom discovered Don Pablo on a visit to Vegas.

The business of rolling cigars is based on the knowledge and expertise of Rubin Del Tauro, an old hand from Cuba and a master roller there. Del Tauro and fellow Cuban Alberto Medina assist in the tobacco selection, color grading and curing processes.

According to Schear, each cigar has a different blend, and five or six tobaccos go into each cigar; tobaccos from Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Brazil and the United States are the ones most often selected by Schear. But Schear’s annual production isn’t large–Don Pablo produces only 250,000 cigars annually. Measured against other buckeyes, an average daily output of 800 cigars isn’t bad.

Schear does have a problem increasing production. All of his rollers are from Cuba originally, but he recruited them out of Miami chinchales, set them up with housing and raised their salaries. These measures are atypical in a business guided by 19th-century principles, but Schear needed some big incentives to bring people from Little Havana into a town with a paucity of Cuban culture. He still faces problems attracting workers to the desert.

Bob Schear is not the only man who’s dreamed of taking tropical tobacco leaves to the arid Vegas Strip. Rich Goldieri “semi-retired” to Las Vegas four years ago, leaving a profitable dental-ceramics business behind in New Jersey to get away from the “aggravation.” But Goldieri, 50, wasn’t ready to sit on his hands. When he was approached by several Cuban-Americans, he decided to open the Las Vegas Cigar Co.

Fast-forward to 1993 and you’ll find Goldieri’s shop right across from the Dunes hotel on Las Vegas Boulevard. What started as a one-roller operation in 1989 has blossomed to six rollers producing about 1,000 cigars daily. Inside, it’s a bit more homey than most chinchales. There’s coffee and doughnuts for visitors who, according to Goldieri, often hang out and socialize or talk business over cigars for hours. “It’s like the old barbershop used to be,” says Goldieri.

Like Bob Schear, most of Goldieri’s business is conducted through the mail. Goldieri says that his 2,500-person mailing list is constantly growing because of his blend (all cigars have filler from the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Brazil, with wrapper and binder from Ecuador) and his Vegas location. Goldieri says that running a Nevada-based business hasn’t deterred rollers from pulling up their Miami roots to make cigars in the West, and he uses one incentive to keep people happy: “Cash. I pay my employees very well, and I let them take their time. I’d rather have them make fewer cigars with better quality.” And what will Goldieri do if Cuban leaf is available someday? “I’ll have Cuban tobacco in my cigars.” But for now, Goldieri isn’t changing the blend. Why gamble with success?

OK, this is Los Angeles in Southern California, and you’re definitely not in Little Havana anymore. Pinch yourself. The owner of La Plata, Victor Migenes Jr., is a serious drummer in a rock band. But La Plata isn’t all hype. The business, started by Victor Migenes Sr. In 1947, is well established. True, the younger Migenes is only in his 30s, but he fits the scene when he says things like, “Cigars are working their way into creativity now. These Young guys are taking cigars into their own space, which is more diverse than it used to be.”

Migenes knows what he’s talking about. Celebrities smoke his cigars in public, like in the old days, and La Plata cigars were featured in a spot on Entertainment Tonight last summer.

Migenes also sponsors smoker nights at upscale Los Angeles restaurants like Pierre’s, McCormick & Schmick’s, and Ma Maison. All this is far from the way his late father ran the company, but Migenes is still very much in touch with the cigar making process. He buys leaf from Oliva Tobacco in Tampa and visits the Olivas regularly.

The effort has paid off–La Plata is selling cigars as fast as they are made. But Migenes knows that his rollers aren’t getting any younger. “It’s a dinosaur business, and the dinosaur is going to die. I’m not scared, but as the years go by it will he tougher.”

Even with a booming business, Migenes says that someday La Plata will be gone from L.A. And there’s no telling whether Migenes will want to try to make cigars someplace where the rollers are as young as the rich and famous smokers in Hollywood.

Knowing the Rules

Getting your hands on fresh cigars requires a bit of common sense and insight–along with the pure luck of living in the right part of the country or having the means or desire to get yourself there. Not surprisingly, most cigar making operations in the United States are confined to the coasts.

Miami, Union City, New Jersey; Tampa, Florida; Las Vegas and Los Angeles all have at least one cigar factory to their credit. But the factories, or chinchales, are rarely located next to the local mall. Finding them can be difficult and usually requires some patience.

Don’t expect timely customer service. When you enter a chinchal you are really stepping onto the factory floor, even if the factory is only two or three rollers strong. In time you will be helped.

Now comes the hard part. If your Spanish skills are lacking or you have only a scant understanding of cigars, you may be bullied into buying something you don’t like. Be firm. Even with the language barrier, your money speaks Esperanto, and you should demand that you get the cigar that you’re looking for. Here are a few rules:

Consistency

The biggest knock against small operations is that they can’t afford to buy and store large quantities of leaf. This is true. Most chinchales rely on the goodwill of men like John Oliva, president of Oliva Tobacco, one of the largest, privately owned tobacco-trading companies in the world. “We bend over backward to help these guys. They’re all that’s left.” Oliva says that it is rarely profitable to store tobacco in small quantities, but with so few rolling operations left, he is happy to accommodate them. Oliva says the chinchales “pay more to carry less,” but keeping less tobacco in-house is also costly because the maintenance of leaf quality is relinquished to another party. And once preaged cigar tobacco winds up in a chinchal, it is likely that other, more powerful cigar manufacturers rejected it.

There is also a problem at chinchales with inconsistent maintenance of cigar humidity. (Miami is the exception, where most chinchales have walk-in humidors.) At some shops, cigars are rolled and simply left out in a cupboard until they are purchased. Buying straight from the rollers’ table is better in this case.

Sizes and Blends

At many chinchales, the blend is the same throughout the size range, so choosing a size is less important than finding a shop that creates the right blend for your taste. This takes some experimentation. If you ask politely, you may be able to determine which tobaccos are used, but there is no better barometer than your taste buds.

Some places actually make unusual sizes like pyramids, but it is more common to find simple sizes like double coronas or Churchills and even smaller ones, like miniatures.

Prices

As a general rule, cigars at chinchales are less expensive than name brands. But be careful, sometimes they cost much more than they are worth. Also, be aware that cigars labeled fumas are cheaper (under $1) because they are made with short filler–the cuttings left over from the production of the long-filler smokes.

Buying Guide

A bit of caution should be used when purchasing chinchales-produced cigars. These cigars smoke best right off the rollers’ table. If you can’t buy them locally, be certain to revive them in a humidor–otherwise they’ll be too dry to smoke. Also, these cigars are generally less complex than other commercially available products. Quantitatively, you get more cigars for your money at chinchales, but there’s no comparing them to the quality of most premium cigars; that’s the point. It’s a different cigar and a new experience.

MIAMI

Antelo Cigars437 S.W. 17th Ave. (305) 642-8911Laurencio Double Corona: This cigar has an even draw, delivering a combination of lightly spicy aromas and a full-bodied taste. The finish is rather mild.(Ring Gauge: 42 Length: 7 1/2″ Price: $1.40)

El Canelo Cigar Factory709 N.W. 27th Ave. (305) 541-6315Miniatures: A slightly sweet smoke with a fast draw. A lot of smoke comes out of this little, no-nonsense cigar.(Ring Gauge: 30 Length: 4 1/2″ Price: $16 for 25 cigars)

Moore & Bode810 S.W. 16th Ave. (305) 649-5308Pyramid: A lovely looking cigar, with mild creamy aromas and flavors. Lacks a certain “punch,” but the pyramid is a well-made, enjoyable smoke.(Ring Gauge: tapered Length: 5 1/2″ Price: $5)

Chavelo Cigars7345 West Flagler St. (800) 222-9930No. 1: The best feature of this cigar is a good fill and solid construction, which gives it an even draw. It emits sweet aromas, which evolve into spicy notes later in the smoke.(Ring Gauge: 44 Length: 6 7/8″ Price: $39 for 25 cigars)

UNION CITY, NEW JERSEY

La Isla505 42nd St. (201) 864-2627No. 1: An initial sweetness gives way to peppery tastes and full, spicy aromas. A genuinely Cuban style comes through.(Ring Gauge: 38 Length: 6 1/2″ Price: $1.40)

Boquilla2116 Summit Ave. (201) 867-8260Churchills: An easy-to-smoke, uncomplicated cigar. Smooth, rich taste, strong aroma and a very fast draw.(Ring Gauge: 50 Length: 7″ Price: $1.20)

TAMPA, FLORIDA

Vincent & Tampa Cigar Co.2503 21st St. (813) 248-1511La Eminencia Premier: A fairly plain smoke, with a fast burn and lots of smoke. The taste is mild with a bit of creaminess but little distinction.(Ring Gauge: 44 Length: 7″ Price: $13.25 for 25 cigars)

Rodriguez & Menendez

4321 Armenia Ave. (813) 879-9740President: A sharp, bold flavor delivered with lots of smoke on the first 10 minutes of draw. Later, the draw tightens, but the flavor remains constant.(Ring Gauge: 50 Length: 7 1/4″ Price: $ 1)

LAS VEGAS

Don Pablo Cigar Co.3025 Las Vegas Blvd. (800) 537-4957Torpedo: A very well-made cigar with mellow aromas and stronger undertones of spice. A relaxing, savory cigar, consistent in bum rate and taste for the duration of the smoke.(Ring Gauge: 58 Length: 7″ Price: $44.50 for 10 cigars)

Las Vegas Cigar Co.3665 South Las Vegas Blvd. (702) 262-6100Churchill: A straight-ahead cigar with a very smooth, fast and smoky draw. Spicy notes with grassy undertones.(Ring Gauge: 50 Length: 7 1/2″ Price: $52.80 for 25 cigars)

LOS ANGELES

La Plata Cigars1026 South Grand Ave. (213) 747-8561Wilshire Maduro: Nice toothy wrapper, fast burn, but not hot. A very rich smoke, the Wilshire isn’t complex. The maduro wrapper delivers much better taste than the colorado-wrapped La Platas, but the aroma is a bit flat in both.(Ring Gauge: 52 Length: 7″ Price: $36.25 for 25 cigars.)

West Coast Cigars

Located on the outskirts of Willow Glen in San Jose, West Coast Cigars is an awesome place to buy and smoke cigars. Their stogie selection is robust (upwards of 40-50 different brands) and requires a walk-in humidor stacked to the ceiling in order to display the options.

Not only do they have 5 large black leather couches and 4 cushy black leather arm chairs where people can enjoy watching a large flat screen TV while puffing on their cigars, but West Coast Cigars also has WiFi for those who need to connect. Outside, West Coast Cigars has a large private grassy yard and patio with chairs, tables and of course a barbeque. Needless to say, West Coast Cigars is one of San Jose’s coolest places to relax with or without friends. 

Marijuana Social Lounges Are Coming To A New Jersey Town Near You

When I last wrote my blog post, “New Jersey Marijuana Social Lounges,” in November 2018, the NJ adult-use recreational bill was in its infancy. Now that the state has finally legalized marijuana under the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act (“CREAMMA”), I am duty-bound to update the blog on “cannabis consumption areas” or “CCAs” as defined in CREAMMA.

Many clients have recently asked me, “How do I open a marijuana social lounge?” The short answer is you will need to apply for a cannabis retail license when the applications are published by the newly created New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (“CRC”).

So, How Do You Open Marijuana Social Lounges?

Fortunately, CREAMMA provides licensed cannabis retailers with the exclusive opportunity to offer one social space for patrons to consume marijuana on the same premises as the retail location – “cannabis consumption areas” (or “CCAs”) – like a bar allows patrons to consume alcohol. Sounds pretty cool, right? But wait, this is New Jersey, so one should expect government red tape before advertising the grand opening.

Under CREAMMA, only licensed cannabis retailers and medical dispensaries can even pursue legally opening a CCA. There will be no “stand-alone” CCAs in New Jersey.

Essentially, a CCA is a designated space operated by a licensed cannabis retailer or medical cannabis dispensary, for which both a state and local government “endorsement” (i.E., formal approval) has been obtained.

A local governmental entity (a/k/a “a municipality”) may authorize the operation of a CCA for the personal use, medical use, or both personal use and medical use of cannabis within its jurisdiction through the adoption of an ordinance.

In order to operate a CCA under a cannabis retail license, the license holder must also apply for an “endorsement” from the CRC and the local governmental entity where the retail establishment would operate. The cannabis retail license holder is prohibited from operating a CCA without both state and local approval.

Under CREAMMA, the CCA endorsement from the state and municipality is valid for one year and may be renewed annually upon the renewal of the cannabis retail license or the medical cannabis dispensary’s permit.

Some More Details, You Ask?

The CCA may be either 1) an indoor structurally enclosed area of the cannabis retailer or medical cannabis dispensary that is separate from the retail sales or medical dispensary area; or 2) an exterior structure on the same premises as the cannabis retailer or medical dispensary, either separate from or connected to the cannabis retailer or medical dispensary, at which cannabis items or medical cannabis either obtained from the retailer or medical dispensary or brought by a person to the CCA, may be consumed.

An indoor CCA shall be a structurally enclosed area within a cannabis retailer that is separated by solid walls or windows from the area in which retail sales of cannabis items occur, shall only be accessed through an interior door after first entering the retailer, and shall comply with all ventilation requirements applicable to cigar lounges, in order to permit indoor smoking vaping, or aerosolizing that is the equivalent of smoking tobacco not in violation of the New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act.

An outdoor CCA shall be an exterior structure on the same premises as the cannabis retailer or medical cannabis dispensary (or clinical registrant facility), that is either separate from or connected to the retailer, dispensary, or facility, and that is not required to be completely enclosed, but shall have sufficient walls, fences, or other barriers to prevent any view of persons consuming cannabis items within the CCA from any sidewalk or other pedestrian or non-motorists right-of-way.

Any smoking, vaping, or aerosolizing of cannabis items that occur in an outdoor CCA must not result in migration, seepage, or recirculation of smoke or other exhaled material to any indoor public place or workplace. Under CREAMMA, the CRC may require an outdoor CCA to include any ventilation features as the CRC deems necessary and appropriate.

What Activities Are Not Allowed in These “Marijuana Social Lounges?”

Under CREAMMA, patrons of the CCA will not be able to buy a beer, glass of wine, or sip on your favorite spirit. A CCA and the retail establishment’s employees would not be permitted to sell alcohol, including fermented malt beverages or malt, vinous or spirituous liquor, sell tobacco or nicotine products, or allow the consumption of alcohol or tobacco or nicotine products on-premises, or operate as a retail food establishment. Unless they are also medical marijuana patients or caregivers, on-duty employees of the retail establishment are prohibited to consume any medical or retail cannabis within the CCA.

Notably, nothing under CREAMMA restricts the ability of patrons to order food items from outside local establishments for delivery to the CCA. However, CRC regulations to be adopted by August 2021 will further address CCA operations.

Then, What Do We Do With Cannabis Leftovers?

There are provisions under CREAMMA relating to sales limits and taking your unused marijuana products home with you when it is time to leave or at CCA closing time. The patron may leave the establishment with a product (properly secured) that he or she does not consume. And, when a patron leaves the CCA, the establishment must destroy any remaining unconsumed cannabis items that are not taken by the patron.

Through the introduction of CCAs, CREAMMA will allow adults 21 years of age and older to consume and enjoy marijuana in social places outside their home. Although this approach would create more social opportunities with marijuana use, it will also cause concerns (real or not) with road safety. In light of the road safety concerns, one can certainly foresee many municipalities opposing CCAs (as well as cannabis businesses more generally). Thus, CCA endorsements by local governmental entities will be very valuable to cannabis retail establishments, especially as COVID-related health and safety concerns begin to hopefully wane in the latter part of 2021 into 2022.

Elementor #1883

WHERE CAN I BUY CIGARS

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Elementor #1878

WHERE TO BUY CIGAR NEAR ME

The El Producto Story

When George Burns, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Ernie Kovacs and other top comics of the day gathered at the Hillcrest Country Club, the room would fill with laughter and cigar smoke. Everyone would be smoking the top brands. Everyone, that is, but George Burns.

“Come on George, try one of these Havanas,” urged Berle and Co. “Live a little. Get rid of those damn Queens, and try something sweet and delicious.”

But the patron saint of cigardom quickly turned down the Montecristos and H. Upmanns thrust in front of him.

Waving aside these premium cigars, Burns again emphasized his loyalty to a lifelong sweetheart. Taking out an ivory holder, he’d light an El Producto Queen, a perfecto-shaped cigar that Burns liked to call “my little lady.”

“I’ll never smoke anything else,” promised Burns, a 10-a-day El Producto man. “I just love the taste of Queens. They never go out on the stage while I’m doing my act, and besides, I get them for free.”

Burns remained true to his word. Until his death last year, the Sunshine Boy rejoiced each month when his shipment of 300 Queens, each packaged in a glass tube, arrived at his Beverly Hills home. “He’d act like a child at Christmas time, smiling ear to ear,” recalls Sam Tuchten, the now-retired El Producto district manager who brought Burns those cigars. “He was in seventh heaven. But god forbid if the shipment was late. George would frantically call the company [Consolidated Cigar Co.], and send his butler to Beverly Hills’ drugstores to buy all the Queens he could find.”

That’s where El Producto is still found: in undistinguished drugstores like Walgreens and Thrifty. Once a handmade premium blend of Havana and Puerto Rican tobaccos, enjoying such national popularity from the 1910s to the 1960s that even Elvis Presley was wild about El P’s Altas and Diamond Tips, Burns’ “little lady” has since become a pale shadow of her former self.

Now, machine-made El Productos have a short natural filler, while the wrappers and binders are produced from either reconstituted or homogenized tobacco, commonly called “sheet”–scrap tobacco ground into powder and held together with vegetable adhesives (only the Queens and Escepcionales have an all-natural wrapper and filler). The once hot-selling line of 14 shapes has been scaled down to nine shapes, and it’s no longer Consolidated’s “flagship” brand. Although El Producto still registers about $15 million a year in sales, the company’s all-natural wrapper cigars far exceed that figure. Today, Antonio y Cleopatras reign as the company’s leading machine-made cigar, with more than $30 million in sales, while El Producto has become the target of in-house jokes.

“The brand is now a poor stepchild,” says Jim Colucci, Consolidated’s senior vice president for sales and marketing. “El Producto was once a good, inexpensive cigar, a real strong regional seller. It just got really hurt when we started to use homogenized wrappers and additives. We then tried to dress her up a bit in the mid-1970s with new packaging–a fluffy-haired blonde in a flaming-red dress and bouffant hairdo. But modernizing the packaging never helped sales, and that blonde is still referred to as the company bimbo.”

Yet George Burns can rest easy. Hoping El Producto will benefit from the “halo effect” of spiraling sales throughout the cigar industry, Consolidated is debuting a commemorative “George Burns Collection” of four shapes this spring that restores some of the brand’s former luster. The cigars will have natural wrappers, either Dominican or Honduran filler, and feature the original turn-of-the-century packaging that pictured a serene-looking “little lady” sitting by a lake.

“We want to give El Producto a premium look with pretty cigar bands and return it to the time when George Burns was singing its praises on TV,” says Colucci. “All our machine-made, natural-wrapped cigars grew over 20 percent last year, and in view of El Producto’s proud history, we feel it can also be a big winner.”

Hand-rolled and made with the finest Havana tobaccos during the first half of the century, El Producto has more than an illustrious past. Originally produced and marketed on Philadelphia streets by an enterprising Russian immigrant named Sam Grabosky, a grain broker turned savvy tobacco buyer, El Producto’s hard-won success encapsulates the American Dream.

But first came “Mr. Sam’s” rough introduction to the hotly contested Philadelphia cigar market. Landing in America in 1890, he struggled as a bunchmaker in a local cigar factory. “All thumbs” and unable to make bunches uniformly, Grabosky brought the bunches home, and his brother Ben worked through the night, making the cigars presentable enough to be sold. After a few years at the factory, Sam Grabosky became a tobacco broker. There was lots of money to be made in those days selling scrap tobacco, and Sam quickly acquired a reputation as a shrewd, yet honest, wheeler and dealer.

“My father sold so much tobacco to this company called 44 Cigar, his attorney advised him, ‘Sam, you have such a big stake in 44, you better manage it to protect your interests,’ ” recalls 81-year-old Marvin Grabosky, Sam’s last surviving son. “Along with Ben, he eventually did manage that company, and they built it up real fast. They soon had enough money to consider other ventures, to start their own cigar making company.”

While ambitious, and devoted to supporting his relatives, Grabosky had little interest in starting a cigar company. Philadelphia was then a hotbed of competing cigar manufacturers, and many had gone belly-up. But one afternoon in 1905 in a store that bought labels from defunct cigar companies, Grabosky discovered the El Producto label. The tobacco dealer offered him the rights to the brand, as well as labels, boxes and bands, for $11.

Grabosky was apprehensive at first. But when he was shown a few boxes of cigars marked with an El Producto logo, he quickly became excited by the prospect of reviving a failed line. The sale was consummated, and with brother Ben’s help, along with two other investors, Sam formed the GHP Cigar Co. to give El Producto new life.

That iffy venture began with a joint investment of $50. The partners purchased a few cigar tables and other production equipment. But after enlisting family members as rollers, they still faced one key problem. There was little money left to buy raw material.

The short and stocky Mr. Sam, though, was respected by other members of Philadelphia’s cigar making community. A quiet but compelling figure, known for his tailored three-piece suits, avid card playing and fairness in all his business transactions, Grabosky didn’t have to fast-talk possible lenders. With only a handshake, he got leaf dealers to extend him credit. Years later, when discussing his rise to prominence in the industry, Grabosky said, “I was amazed that, even with my having so little money, the dealers came to my support immediately.”

But Grabosky needed more than money to survive in the early 1900s. To distinguish El Producto from the scores of other 5-cent smokes made in Philadelphia storefronts and small factories, this keen-eyed judge of tobacco leaf had to offer cigars that truly lived up to such names as Bouquets and Escepcionales.

The filler for both cigars was a mixture of Cuban and Puerto Rican tobaccos, wrapped in Connecticut broadleaf binders and shade wrappers. Besides the fat and pointed Escepcionales (Grabosky’s personal favorite, which sold for a then-pricey three for 50 cents during the 1920s), GHP also offered thin panatelas and blunts at 10 cents apiece and coronas at 15 cents each. What made these cigars unique was their consistent, nutty taste.

“That uniformity, my father’s insistence on always blending the tobaccos the same way, insured El Producto’s success,” says Marvin Grabosky. “The taste of most cigars fluctuated back then, constantly becoming either too mild or robust for the mainstream smoker. But by blending light- and dark-colored tobaccos from higher and lower lands, my dad sold a cigar that was much different than anything on the market.”

Starting off by renting a two-story downtown building near the 2nd Street “cigar market,” GHP moved a few blocks down to a four-floor factory, and then to a factory at 3rd and Brown. While facing stiff competition from such cigars as the 5-cent Bayuk Phillies and the 10-cent La Palinas, the company grew so quickly that, by the First World War, it had 36 factories in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. By 1915, that nutty-tasting uniqueness had made El Producto a Philadelphia phenomenon.

Grabosky filled his factories with tobacco, convinced that any oversupply would protect the company against “all the vagaries of nature.” The chief buyer of leaf for GHP, he often traveled to Cuba and Puerto Rico, and on these expeditions “Mr. Sam” was always prepared to dazzle crop growers. He was a tough negotiator, quick to raise his voice in bargaining sessions. And, according to his grandson, Jack Grabosky, he’d seal a deal by unbuttoning his shirt and paying for tobacco with gold bars that were strapped around his waist.

While Grabosky “knew exactly what to look for when judging the color and grain of tobacco,” according to Jack Grabosky, he was even more savvy when it came to using modern-era promotional strategies. Though initially averse to advertising on the newfangled radio, he quickly overcame this reluctance, and hired “Doc” Kinett, a University of Pennsylvania communications professor, to shape a broad-based marketing campaign. This cutting-edge promotional effort, begun around 1920, produced radio jingles, billboards and newspaper ads, as well as films shown at in-house company meetings that featured pointers on displaying and selling cigars.

America had rarely seen such a sophisticated, full-pronged ad campaign, and those promos made El Producto the top seller in major markets such as Chicago, Boston and New York. By the First World War, when El Producto was battling Dutch Masters for supremacy, Ben Grabosky supervised about 20 salesmen in each of those cities. While sales figures are unavailable, one family member insists, “These men worked their tails off. El Producto was so popular, even a [brand] like Life-Savers hooked their star to us. They ran newspaper ads next to ours, saying ‘Make the Next Smoke Taste Better.’ “

El Producto’s success allowed Sam Grabosky to become a major philanthropic figure in Philadelphia and, as his son Marvin says, “to set up all his children (six sons and three daughters) in big houses.” But success was tempered by tragedy; in 1918, his son Jack, a salesman, fell victim at age 23 to the great flu epidemic. The loss left Sam brokenhearted, and while continuing to be GHP’s master blender, ever found in the company’s humidor rolling sample cigars, he lost a bit of his fervor for the business.

GHP’s fortunes still soared in the Roaring Twenties, and by 1926, El Producto had established dominance over Dutch Masters in several key Northeastern and Midwestern markets. Rather than continue that losing fight, Dutch Masters’ parent company, Consolidated Cigar, chose another strategy: it offered to buy GHP for $11 million.

Though Grabosky was still mourning the loss of his son, he was not eager to relinquish control of his cigar business. But by this time he recognized that cigarettes were gaining new popularity, and that increasingly vocal women were growing more critical of cigar smoking. His son Harry, a recent graduate of the Wharton business school, also urged him “to get into something new.” After weighing all of these factors, along with his love of cigar blending, Grabosky finally decided to accept Consolidated’s hefty offer.

Under the terms of that agreement,which allowed GHP to function as an independent subsidiary with its own salesmen and production facilities, Grabosky was prohibited from starting another manufacturing company. But acknowledging his expertise in the selecting and buying of tobacco leaf, Consolidated hired him to supervise the purchase and blending of El Producto, Dutch Masters and their other Cuban-Puerto Rican cigar, La Palina.

“El Producto was my dad’s baby, and he continued to help it grow until the 1930s,” says Marvin Grabosky. “But he also wound up buying tobacco and making the blends for all the Consolidated cigars. He just had this knack for reading the market, knowing what to buy and when.”

Yet a new–and stormy–era was beginning for El Producto. Consolidated issued yearly store displays (with the long-standing slogan, “For Real Enjoyment”) in the late 1920s and instructed salesmen on how to set up cigar store cases with a “fine three-way lineup” of Puritanos Finos, Bouquets and Blunts. During the Depression years the company also implored employees to show a “fighting” spirit to counter lagging sales. But since the GHP Cigar Co. existed as a separate production entity under the Consolidated umbrella, with its own distinct sales force, that fighting was taken to nasty extremes over the next three decades.

Bitter in-house rivalries developed, as the Dutch Masters and El Producto salesmen used various tricks and strategies to snare retail shelf space. “It was all-out war between us, and we were out to kill Dutch Masters by whatever means necessary,” says Lew Myers, who began selling El Productos in the 1940s and, like his father before him, stayed with the brand for 40 years.

“We owned places like Philadelphia, New York and Boston,” says Myers. “To keep it that way, we’d take sharp pencils and put holes in Dutch Masters cigars. Made it look like [mites] had gotten into them. We’d also put our boxes on top of theirs, bury the Dutch Masters in store cases. We did all sorts of unsavory things, and they did the same to us.”

During this battle for market share, the El Producto forces focused on urban areas. Some regions had specific preferences: “The 48-ring guage Escepcionale did nothing in New York,” Myers says with a laugh. “Yet in Texas, where guys liked big cigars, that all-day sucker was king.” Dutch Masters, meanwhile, became a more “national” smoke during the 1940s, easily found from California to Florida in the nation’s smaller towns.

To solidify that national appeal in the 1950s and ’60s, Dutch Masters lined up Ernie Kovacs, Danny Thomas and Sid Caesar to do TV spots, while the now machine-made El Productos were promoted by George Burns. But even as these two rivals slugged it out, budget-minded executives cut corners by utilizing “sheet” instead of natural binders, and generally gave both brands an unmistakeable uniformity.

“Both El Producto and Dutch Masters were interchangeable after a while,” ruefully recalls a former El Producto salesman. “While each brand had a few distinct shapes, both cigars had the same taste, the same blend of tobaccos. The factories just packed them in different bands and boxes.”

But “Much Dasters,” as Kovacs liked to call them on television, drew a bigger advertising budget than El Producto. Joe Kissinger and other GHP salesmen resented this “inferior, stepsister treatment,” and their feelings were further ruffled when Consolidated acquired Muriel cigars in 1956. Besides heavily promoting Muriels with Edie Adams’ “Pick Me Up and Smoke Me Sometime” commercials, Consolidated asked the once-independent GHP salesmen to also sell Muriels, which had its own sales force as well.

In 1968, Gulf & Western purchased Consolidated, and to promote greater efficiency during an era of plummeting sales, it merged the El Producto and Dutch Masters’ sales forces. The House Grabosky Built (Sam died in 1953) was now in the hands of “bankers,” recalls Dave Goldfarb, another 40-year veteran at Consolidated. “They knew nothing about the cigar business and just picked off the profits.”

Gulf & Western’s continued to slash operating expenses in the 1970s. Joining the company back then, Jim Colucci recalls it was “cut, cut, cut,” and the budgetary moves particularly affected El Producto, as G&W increasingly pulled the plug on all the brand’s advertising.

“These were tough times in the industry, and deciding to emphasize Dutch Masters as the true national brand, G&W totally gave up on El Producto,” says Colucci. “While it once had a $3 million ad budget, El Producto took a big hit every year. I tried to fight for more El Producto presence but it went unheard. All the money went to putting Dutch Masters on [ABC’s] ‘Monday Night Football’, while El Producto got the leftovers for a few spots on bowling telecasts.”

Combined with the 1960s consolidation of the sales forces (which meant the closing of many El Producto distribution facilities), the advertising cuts had a devastating effect on sales, especially in markets where El Producto didn’t have a strong regional following, as in California. Salesman Joe Kissinger estimates that 35 percent of the brand’s business was lost on the West Coast (20 to 25 percent nationwide), and ruefully adds, “Cutting the advertising just guaranteed the diminishing of the cigar.”

But even more trouble loomed for El Producto. What one sales rep calls “a death blow for the cigar” was leveled once Gulf & Western divested Consolidated in 1982 to five of the cigar company’s senior managers. Again looking to cut costs, the Consolidated executives decided to produce the majority of El Productos (except for the Queens and Escepcionales) with a reconstituted “sheet” wrapper. They insisted this wouldn’t affect the taste of the cigar, or how it felt in a smoker’s mouth. Disagreeing, Colucci, then Consolidated’s western region sales manager, felt the use of a homogenized wrapper would mean “the beginning of the end” for El Producto. But “sheet” was the trend in the early ’80s, as White Owls and Phillies had also begun to use synthetic wrappers, and so his protests went ignored.

Sales soon plunged. In 1982, El Producto sold more than 200 million cigars. That figure dropped to 132 million in 1984, 117 million in 1985, 83 million in 1990 and to 50 million by ’95.

Part of the decline was due to the industry’s overall skid in the late 1980s. Yet as Colucci says, “Consumers simply didn’t like the synthetic, tobacco-substitute stuff. So we took big hits every year, a 25 percent dip in units the first year, then 12 percent, 15 percent declines. It was the wrong move, just a terrible decision to go to sheet, and El Producto got killed.”

Now Colucci is trying to undo that wrong and to shape El Producto’s revival. Working with George Burns’ estate, and possibly utilizing a Forrest Gump-styled promo from Burns about El Producto’s charms, Consolidated is launching four natural-wrapped shapes this spring, priced from about 75 cents to $1.25 for a glass-tubed cigar.

Colucci realizes “it’ll be a slow build” to restore El Producto’s reputation as a quality machine-made cigar. But he’s still confident this “premium-looking George Burns’ Collection” will be faithful to the cigar’s storied tradition and to the spirit of Sam Grabosky.

“It’s time to correct the past mistakes, the wrong turns that were taken with this brand in the 1970s and ’80s,” says Colucci. “I told George [Burns] years ago that El Producto merited better treatment, that we should do something special with his beloved cigars. Now I want to keep my promise to him, and to his ‘little lady.'”

Edward Kiersh is a freelance writer living in Florida.

Elementor #1873

WHERE TO BUY CIGARS NEAR ME

New Bill Would Cap Tax On Cigar Sales In Illinois

A state lawmaker is proposing a tax cap on cigars sold in Illinois.

State Rep. Jonathon Carroll’s bill would place a 50 cent cap per cigar in place of the current 36% tax. The rate doubled from 18% in 2012.

“This bill corrects something in the taxation system that really hurts some of our local merchants,” Carroll said. “People have more of an incentive to order cigars from out of state than buying them in Illinois.”

Mike Gold with the Arango Cigar Company in Northbrook said when he started in the business in 1981, online sales amounted to about 25% of cigar sales in the country. He said with the current taxes in place, that number has now grown to about 65% of all sales.

“Clearly our brick-and-mortar stores have suffered tremendously during this time period, and now with COVID, many of them are barely surviving and have already closed,” Gold said.

In December 2019, the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the city of Chicago’s ordinance imposing a tax on other tobacco products, or “OTPs.” The court sided with the plaintiff that the city’s ordinance is preempted by the Illinois Municipal Code, which states home rule municipalities that have not imposed “a tax based on the number of units of cigarettes or tobacco products before July 1, 1993, shall not impose such a tax after that date.”

The federal tax cap on large cigars is 52.75% of the sales price, but not to exceed 40.26 cents per cigar.

Julie Newman, president of the Cigar Association of Illinois, said the high tax is actually depriving the state of revenues.

“When consumers want to buy a box they do so where the tax rate is lower or does not even exist at all,” Newman said. “In turn, this deprives Illinois of much-needed sales tax dollars and OTP tax dollars.”

The cigar industry is facing another challenge. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin has reintroduced a tobacco tax increase as part of a bill that is otherwise intended to address maternal mortality. The Mothers and Offspring Mortality and Morbidity Awareness Act (MOMMA’s Act) would change the tax code and treat the entire tobacco industry as cigarettes. The result is an estimated 500% to 1,000% increase on the tax for premium cigars.

The website Cigar Authority reported the bill would raise the costs for manufacturers, retailers and consumers, and jobs, businesses and the ability to buy and enjoy a premium cigar will be at risk.

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