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What’s Smokin…April 2009
Written by Gary J. Arzt

Wednesday, 01 April 2009

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industry updates


 

 

When I met Michael, he was a salesman at Davidoff on Madison Avenue in NYC – George Brightman’s old stomping ground – and he was working for David Kitchens. In fact, I have always wondered, and never asked, whether Michael influenced David’s attire or vice versa. In any event, they both dress in an eclectically distinctive fashion.

 

More to the point, Michael knows his cigars; knows how to smoke ‘em, sell ‘em and create very loyal customers.

 

From being a salesman in the Madison Avenue shop, he went on to manage the smaller location at Time Warner Center, when it opened.

 

He did such a terrific job in both positions, that when David left to manage Holt’s in Philadelphia – I wonder how his sartorial flare ‘flies’ in the sedate City of Brotherly Love – Michael was appointed General Manager. He’s back at Madison Avenue, but is responsible for Time Warner as well. He’s earned it, and pulls it off while making it seem effortless.

 

Michael runs some of the finest cigar events in New York City, or anywhere else. Whenever I am in town, I head for 575 Madison Avenue to see Michael, enjoy his gracious hospitality and maybe have dinner at Rothman’s Steak House or a post- prandial drink and cigar at The Carnegie Club.

 

Next time you’re in New York, try to get over there and introduce yourself. Don’t tell him Gary J. Arzt sent you…he’s liable to ignore you!

 

It is my intention to provide these little vignettes of tobacconist all of the country in future columns. If you get to any of them, let me know what you think.

 

I noted a comment on Puff, the other day, by “Paul,” repeating the unfounded, illogical canard that ratings in Cigar Aficionado are directly related to the amount of advertising a cigar maker places.

 

Let’s start with the illogical aspect. If that were the case, and CA lost credibility, it would lose readers. Fewer readers mean lower advertising rate – or even fewer advertisers.

 

The February ’09 issue which, for example, gave Espinosa y Ortega’s Cubao No. 1 the highest rating in the Churchill category, gave that exalted rating to a company that has never advertised in the magazine. And, it is only one of several high ratings E y O has received for Cubao and 601.

 

At the same time, Rocky Patel, a major advertiser received one rather low rating.

 

This lie has been perpetuated for all the years Aficionado has been published. It is time the people serving up this misinformation faced the facts.
 

 

The other evening, I had occasion to look at Illusione’s web site. In spite of all Dion’s protestations about the meaning of this, and the meaning of that, it would appear that he has thought better of the links under the menu heading, “The Society.” Now the links are all cigar oriented, with the exception of the “Atomiks,” which is his former band, rather than links to anti-Semitic and conspiratorial drivel!

 

Regardless of my perturbation with the former links, and my questions about Illusione’s front marks, Dion markets a tremendously enjoyable line of cigars; now joined by Cruzado (Spanish for “crusader”), but I have no intention of enquiring as to Dion’s view on the Crusades!

 

My friend Thorsten Wolfertz, of Wolfertz GmbH of Solingen, Germany, was in town for a week. Thorsten is the fourth generation of his family to head the, almost, 100 year old company. He has manufactured some of Xikar’s cutters – before they chose to manufacture in China. Solingen, like Sheffield, England, is home to manufacturers of the finest blades – sporting and surgical. It’s the steel.

 

Thorsten was here to see Eddie Ortega of Espinosa y Ortega; he’s their distributor for 601 in Germany. He also had some business to attend to regarding lighters.

 

Most of all, I think, he wanted to get away from the cold, visit American cigar lounges, and enjoy m y scintillating company and sense of humour.

 

During his visit, he spent a few hours at Puros Fine Cigars, Miami, Fl, had dinner at Deco Drive Cigars Davidoff Lounge on Lincoln Road, Miami Beach, Fl, and had a pleasant conversation with peripatetic owner, Joey Bevilacqua. Joey owns four cigar stores on South Beach.

 

We also spent three hours with George Valdes on a relatively calm Sunday afternoon.

 

On the following Monday, I took him to Boca Raton to meet Steve Harvey, CEO of Orleans International Group – think humidors, cutters, lighters. Thorsten has an exquisitely designed cutter that he was interested in having someone market in the U.S. I thought Orleans perfect for the task.

  

Leaving Boca Raton, we headed to Miami and Paul Hernandez’s really terrific tobacconist/lounge/bar. We arrived at 6:00 PM.

 

Sitting and talking with Paul, who happens to be the Xikar rep, among other lines, in Florida, we were having an enjoyable time. Paul got a call from Pete Johnson – who  needs  no further introduction to real cigar ‘mavens’ – and in 15 minutes, Pete arrived from MIA (Miami International Airport, not Missing in Action).

 

It became quite an impromptu party, Pete having just returned from Esteli, Nicaragua where he had been with Pepin and Jaime Garcia, and had shot new photos for his new ad campaign. No, not a Nicaraguan photographer; Esteli was for the locations. Pete brought his photographer from Miami.

 

We ordered some eats from a restaurant in the same mall as Paul’s shop. The conversation continued over dinner, and I have to tell you, it was a pleasure.

 

I’ve known Pete Johnson for about two decades, and it’s always interesting to have the opportunity to sit and chat with him. Something that is he’s ‘on’ at IPCPR.

 

We talked about Tatuaje, La Riqueza, Pete’s forthcoming new cigars (Can’t say a word yet) and other people’s cigars. We even touched on the subject of Illusione and Cruzado, brands owned by Pete’s pal, Dion Giolitto. I’ve already had my say above.

 

Everyone around us was intrigued and impressed by Thorsten’s Xeto cutter, which while a little too heavy for me to carry in my pocket, is an extraordinary instrument, and I do keep one on my desk.

 

We continued like this until about 11:00, even though Paul had departed, which was nice – we were able to talk about him!

 

Thorsten and I took our leave as Pete was leaving for a different playing field.
 

 

Erik Espinosa, son of Erik Espinosa, of 601, Cubao, Mi Barrio fame, is learning the retail side of the cigar business. He works part time for Alejandro Alcorta at Puros Fine Cigars (10792 Coral Way, Miami, FL 33165 – www.myspace.com/puros1 - 305.222.2217). He’s learning the hospitality thing from Alejandro, who, as I said earlier, is the master when it comes to treating customers properly.

 

Here’s young Erik, hard at working making a great Cuban coffee.

 

erik_espinosa_at_puros_fine_cigars_002

 

What’s in a name? Speaking for myself, which is the only thing I ever do, I am tired of cigars being named for anti-societal figures; Mafiosi, mass murders, etc. Why do people feel it appropriate to associate cigars, and cigar smoking, a genteel activity, with Al Capone (Yes, he smoked cigars) or various figures from the “Sopranos?”

 

If you’re looking to name a cigar for someone, why not Groucho Marx, Mark Twain, George Burns, Gen. Patton – cigar smokers all.

 

There is really no need to veer to the dark side!

 

I got a phone call on 19 March from Mauricio Hanono (Absolute Premium Cigars – 22 S.W. 8th Street, Miami, FL 33130 – 305.749.9999), inviting me to a small gathering to celebrate the shop’s 12th Anniversary at 8:00 PM. “Of course I’ll be there,” I told Maurice – my tobacconist and good friend for twelve (12) years.

 

I arrived shortly after 8 intending to spend an hour or so. I departed at midnight! As always, at Maurice’s, the food and libation was available in abundance and the conversation, addressing sports, cigars, politics, business, filled the air along with the smoke from thirty, or so, excellent cigars.

 

absolute_159.jpg

 

It was a mix of old and new patrons, with a few notable absences, which included Sean Allen, Silvio Anspach, Joe Baz, who has moved to San Francisco (but gets back often enough to retain ‘his chair’) and H.E. Luis-Felipe Mendonça, formerly the deputy Counsel General of Brazil in Miami. Luis-Felipe is no Brazil’s Ambassador to El Salvador. He too returns as often as he can. In spite of these absences, a good time w as had by all.

 

Maurice, himself, had a particularly good time, as around 11:30 PM he departed for Havana Dreams, next door, to dance with the charming Isel Piloto, who works for Maurice. “Works for?” Hell, she all but runs the place!

 

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I’ve always wondered, when I would pass a Starbucks, about all those people that use their premises as an office – for the price of a cup of coffee. Starbucks has some pretty pricey real estate and while they do like their stores to look busy; they also need sales.

 

Well, I have recently noted lots of people that frequent cigar lounges, relaxing, watching TV, playing dominos – and not buying cigars. Some even walk in with cigars that they have purchased elsewhere. The Yiddish word for that is “chutzpah.”

 

Do the math guys; the tobacconist is there to sell you cigars, not just provide you with bottled water, Cuban coffee and a place to park yourself. If you don’t purchase smokes; he won’t be there for long.

 

Believe it or not, that’s another aspect of ‘cigar etiquette’ that you may not be aware of, albeit, it is simply logical.

 

And, while I’m on the subject, not many tobacconists or their cigar smoking patrons enjoy the aroma of a cigarette!

 

I was conversing with a good friend of mine at the Pro Cigar Festival Closing Gala…and we were, like a lot of people everywhere these days, talking about the economic situation and the impact it will have on the cigar industry.

 

“Obviously,” I offered, “there will be casualties. My friend, a long time executive with a major cigar maker asked, “Do you  care to give me some names?”

 

That brief conversation has been on my mind ever since (that was Friday evening, 20 February).

 

While I did not give him names, I have been working on it. Not that I wish anyone ill nor see  anyone go out of business; it is inevitable. Why I say “inevitable” relates to something else I have been pondering for some time, to wit: Why do people, without any in depth knowledge, think they can make cigars or, open a tobacconist? It’s a serious business, requiring knowledge, not something one does as a hobby; not something one doe, merely, because he had the money to do it.
 

 

So, I have embarked on a careful analysis, and I’m thinking that in my May column, I publish a short list of cigars that may not be with us by 2010. Just as certain banks won’t be with us.

 

Further consolidation in the industry is surely forthcoming. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Thompson acquired, maybe even by Cigars International (now owned by Swedish Match).

 

In terms of internet sellers of cigars, with J-R already in the hands of Altadis, that would leave Famous Smoke Shop and Mike’s Cigars for someone else to acquire.

 

La Gloria Cubana’s Seventh Annual Super Roller Contest held their finals in Miami, on Friday, 13 March thru Sunday, 15  March.

 

From about 1,000 people who tried their hand at rolling cigars at The Big Smoke, General Cigar culled seven people.

 

On Thursday, 12 March, they were flown to Miami and ensconced at The National Hotel on Miami Beach.

 

There was a welcoming reception and dinner.

 

On  Friday, the contestants practiced with rollers at La Gloria and had lunch in Little Havana.

 

Saturday morning, the rolling began in earnest, resulting in the elimination of one contestant, and later; another lavish meal. This time at Devito’s (Yes, Danny Devito’s) on Miami Beach.

 

Sunday, the 15th, after a beautiful brunch at The Havana Club of Miami, the rolling contest continued.

 

Final judgment was rendered by the judges from La Gloria – including Ernesto Perez Carrillo – the winner, Matthew Swick, 30, from Washington State.

 

There was some real effort made by all the contestants, but, Matthew’s work stood out.

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All the contestants were very delightful and diligent. I had the pleasure to be there Saturday and Sunday, and joined them for their final dinner at Joe’s Stone Crab, on Miami Beach.

 

All, including the General Cigar people and La Gloria people that were involved enjoyed themselves.

 

There has always been something problematic about a cigar getting a high rating…it will be weeks before you’ll find one on your tobacconist’s shelves! Such is the case with MATASA’s Casa Magna robusto (and the other sizes) and Espinosa y Ortega’s Cubao No.  1 (the Churchill).

 

As embittered as I am about these difficulties; both those companies are to be congratulated.

 

"A cigar numbs sorrow and fills the solitary hours with a million gracious images."                                                                                           George Sand, 1867






Comments 

 
0 # President of Tobacconist UniversityJorge Armenteros 2009-04-02 02:59
Gary - nice piece! You appreciation and support for retail tobacconists is unparalleled! kudos...

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0 # Bravo Gary. Encore! Escribe Perfectamente. David Pacela 2009-04-02 10:26
Dear Writer, A pleasure to read your article for puff - life style. One more with the style,grace, and expertise of a man more than worthy of the renaissance so surely lacking in the intellect of our Miami climes.Bravo again. You do your friends credit and your readers a great service. How satisfying to recognise your talent. Even for one less educated in the subjects you delight in. The cigar may be your font but the pen is your foil. Salude mi amico. Sincerely your brethren,David: -)

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