An Interview With Ashton's Robert Levin
Best known for creating Ashton, Robert Levin is a 30-year veteran of the cigar business.
From the Print Edition:
Arnold Schwarzenegger, July/Aug 03
(continued from page 5)
Q: Tell me about your newest cigar, La Aroma de Cuba.
A: I wanted to come out with a different type of cigar at a different price point. It's expensive to make cigars in the Dominican Republic, so we needed to go somewhere else. Also the Fuentes are really maxed out on production. I can't get any more VSGs, I can't get more maduros. They didn't have the production capabilities to do a new brand.
Q: So where did you end up?
A: I'd been talking to my friend Jim Colucci [of Altadis] for quite a long time, and I had been doing business with Flor de Copan [in Honduras] before Altadis bought the factory. I would buy a lot of their seconds, in bundles. And I thought it would be a good place where I could have a brand made. The name La Aroma de Cuba came from a Cigar Aficionado article. I read an article you guys did a long time ago on Winston Churchill. When Churchill was stationed in Cuba in his very young days, one of his favorite cigars was La Aroma de Cuba. So when I researched it, it had just disappeared off the face of the earth. I registered the name, and I'd had it for a long time, five years, before we came out with the brand. And I got a hold of an old label from the original La Aroma de Cuba, which was a beautiful label.
Q: Is that the original Cuban artwork?
A: It's a combination of the original Cuban artwork with another old label; our designer put both of them together. It's very similar to the older label, with a few additions.
Q: Is the wrapper from the factory's farm in northern Honduras?
A: It's a Cuban-seed wrapper that's grown in Honduras, but it's grown by Plasencia. Flor de Copan does grow wrapper, but they don't have enough of it to put on a brand. It's a very small farm. I wanted to use their wrapper, because it tasted great, but they just don't have the quantity to come out with a brand. And they don't have any big leaves to put on larger cigars.
Q: What's the rest of the blend?
A: It's Honduran and Nicaraguan filler, and it's Honduran binder, and it's all Cuban-seed tobacco. It starts at $3.70 and goes to $5. The packaging is beautiful and the cigar is excellent.
Q: How was the reception to La Aroma de Cuba?
A: La Aroma de Cuba has been accepted extremely well, and it was a pretty big hit at the RTDA [Retail Tobacco Dealers of America] show when we introduced it [in 2002]. Our problem, fortunately, is we can't get enough product. We're really behind. Hopefully we'll catch up in the next three or four months, but the demand has outpaced the supply.
Q: How many do you think you'll be able to sell in 2003?
A: We're hoping for a million.
Q: That's a fast start.
A: We're way behind that now. The shipments haven't been coming in as we planned. It's a great cigar, and it's very reasonably priced.
Q: Let's talk about some of your other cigar brands. Do you still make Premium Dominicana?
A: No. I learned a few things with that. We rushed something out because we were a public company. That was the main reason to come out then. We didn't have the right name, we didn't have the right packaging, and that was really rushed to market before it was ready.
Q: You felt the pressure to get something new to the market?
A: I was under a lot of pressure to get something out. There was a shortage of cigars everywhere, shortage of tobacco and cigars, and it was hard to come up with a product, and too rushed. The care and attention that you have to put into it just was not done. That was a good cigar, but everything was rushed.
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