Moving to Miami
The historic home of the U.S. cigar industry is a new hot spot for creative cigarmakers
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Rolling tables take up most of the space in the factory, and Cobas walks up and down, checking cigars and looking at their construction. She says that the operation was not profitable when it first started, but the real turning point for the factory came about two years ago when a Cuban roller named Maria Sierra started working for her. Classified as a Category 9 roller, Sierra had made cigars at the prestigious El Laguito Factory in the Miramar section of Havana for 32 years, giving her somewhat of an elite status among rollers.
“Usually the rollers from Cuba that come around are from Upmann or the Partagás Factory if you’re lucky,” says Cobas. “But El Laguito?” Cobas walks over to Sierra’s rolling table and picks up a cigar, holding it up, showing off its excellent construction and pigtail cap—undeniable proof of remarkable training. Sierra does not look up from her work.
In Cuba, Sierra primarily made Cohibas, including Behikes, and her skills have been put to good use in Miami. Last year, she made a limited-edition cigar for Bill Paley’s La Palina brand called the Goldie Laguito No. 2, which was rolled with the same parameters as the Cuban Laguito No. 2—a 6 inch by 38 ring panetela. It was the only La Palina made in Miami until this year’s Goldie Laguito No. 5, an expertly finessed pigtail cigar the same size as the Cohiba Behike BHK 54 (5 3/4 by 54).
Sierra is the only one who rolls these smokes for La Palina. Only 25,000 are scheduled for production. While she concentrates on that, the nine other rollers are busy producing the Padilla cigars, including the Padilla Miami 8 & 11 (a cigar that was once made in Miami, relocated to Honduras, and brought back to Miami), Chinnock Cellars cigars (a brand owned by Brian Chinnock of Chinnock Cellars winery) and some of the El Primer Mundo brands, including the Epifania and Liga Miami.
Cobas mourns the loss of some of the factories that have left the neighborhood. El Credito Cigars, which rolled La Gloria Cubanas just across the street, now only sells cigars. And El Rey de los Habanos is now in Doral. “I wish that some of the people who left Calle Ocho were still here. It brought more foot traffic, but I love it here,” says Cobas. “The rollers are artists and I don’t ever get tired of watching them work. They’re the best at what they do. Miami still has that mystique.”
A mystique indeed. But also something simple—the cigars are made well and with distinction. It’s a city where displaced artisans are anxious to show their skill and passion. Fernández, when assessing his cigars and his rollers, puts it plainly: “Being in Miami is the closest thing you can get to rolling in Cuba. Each cigar is rolled in Cuba’s image.”
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