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A Conversation with Nestor Miranda

The founder of Miami Cigar & Co. talks about the rise, fall and rebirth of his Don Lino brand.
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
David Caruso, Jan/Feb 2007

(continued from page 3)

A: In November, my humidor was totally empty. La Aurora, León Jimenes, could not produce any more cigars. They could not. So they cut the cigars they sold in the Dominican Republic so they could send me cigars. That was Guillermo León.

Q: So in November of 1996, they said no more cigars? Were you waiting on an order?

A: I'd been calling the company. I called Greenwich [the Connecticut headquarters] and I said, "Listen, I have no cigars. Normally I receive a container. What is going on?" They said, "We have to tell you, at UST, we've decided to go on our own."

Q: I thought they called you?

A: I called to find out about the cigars. They called me the next day because I wanted to talk to the president. They said, "He's not here, but he'll call tomorrow." I said, "Listen, call the factory, send me two containers of cigars. They're sold already." So they called me the next day, the president of UST, and he told me, "Nestor, you did a great job, but we decided to go on our own." I said, "What do you mean? You're kidding, right?" They said, "No, we're going to be selling our cigars." I said, "OK, let me ask you something: what about my Don Lino? Because you make that brand for me." They said, "We'll call you and let you know what is going to happen with Don Lino." So it was a totally unexpected call, losing everything we built. I don't know how to face my family and tell them we lost everything. We don't deserve that. Especially that the line was given to Southern Wine. I worked for 15 years with that company.

Q: What was the relationship between UST and Southern Wine?

A: UST has various companies. One of the companies is in the wine business. Southern Wine California was doing a great business for UST. Southern Wine decided to go into the cigar business. There was a big boom in the cigar business. When [UST] came to Miami to sign the [distribution] contract, they took away California. I said, "Why?" They said, "We're going to give it to Southern Wine." I said, "I think they're going to use your cigar for cross-merchandising." They sold to liquor stores.

Q: So you never sold their cigars in California?

A: The only thing I could sell in California was Don Lino, which I owned. We did extremely well—over and above expectations. And something I'm grateful for is when we lost the line, the tobacconists in the U.S.A. didn't abandon me, they helped me.

Q: What did they do?

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