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An Interview with Ruben Ysidron

Ysidron created the first branded cigar for Savinelli 15 years ago, and the standards have been high ever since.
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Jay-Z, May/June 2009

Ruben Ysidron began working for Savinelli Inc. nearly 40 years ago. Born in Tampa, Florida, the son of a cigar roller, Ysidron created the first branded cigar from the Italian company 15 years ago, in conjunction with the Fuente family in the Dominican Republic.

The executive, who is fluent in English, Spanish and Italian, now oversees the creation and sale of Savinelli cigars made in a host of varieties, including the Savinelli Special Selection 2005 Torpedo, one of Cigar Aficionado's Top 25 Cigars of 2008.

Ysidron, 65, recently sat down in Cigar Aficionado's offices for a wide-ranging discussion with senior editor David Savona.

Savona: How did you enter the cigar business?
Ysidron: My dad had two things he did in his lifetime. He was a barber, and he rolled cigars. I'm originally from Tampa. I was born in the same hospital where Carlito Fuente [Carlos Fuente Jr.] was born.

Q: Were you born in Ybor City?
A: Yes. There's a lot of heritage that goes back. And we knew the Fuente family for many years—we'd been friends long before the cigar boom ever took place. And my dad smoked a cigar constantly. He rolled cigars and brought back some cigars from where he was working. So I was always around cigar smoking.

Q: You once told me a funny story about how many cigars your dad smoked.
A: My mom would tell him, 'Richard, you're going to the bathroom—put it down.' That's how much he smoked cigars. He always had a cigar. So I grew up with that. And I moved to New York, and went to school at Fairleigh Dickinson University [in New Jersey]. And at that time I worked for Martin Marietta Corp., worked there for about six years before I started with Savinelli. We were in Saddle Brook, New Jersey, and I headed up Savinelli.

Q: What year was that?
A: 1969. And in the middle '70s, I was contacted by a gentleman named Simon Camacho. We talked about distribution of the Camacho cigar line, and in 1975 we contracted with him to represent Camacho in the United States.

Q: Was that Savinelli's first dealing with cigars?
A: That was our first endeavor in the cigar business. I was interested because of the background I had: my dad was a cigar roller; my grandfather was a cigar roller as well. My grandfather was born in Cuba, and he lived with us, because my grandmother passed away at a young age. And he was a very big influence on my life.

Q: So your grandfather came from Cuba. What kind of name is Ysidron?
A: It's a name from Spain. My other grand- father came from Spain, and my two grandmothers were French. So then we got involved with Simon Camacho, and at the time we represented his three lines of cigars: Camacho, Valencia and Monte Carlo.

Q: And he was making the cigars in Nicaragua at the time?
A: Well, that was part of the problem. Mr. Camacho, based out of Miami, would get on a plane and depending upon where he landed, his next production would come out of that country. It could have been Honduras, it could have been Nicaragua, it could have been Costa Rica. So after we started selling that product line, we started getting resistance from customers. They said they weren't consistent. They were all good, but when you bought the next box, they were different from the first box, because [they were from another country]. So we had enough customers complaining to us about the consistency for us to get out of the cigar business. After two years we said, "This is just not working," and we ended our relationship in 1978. In the middle 1970s, I took a tour of the Fuente factory in Tampa, Florida, with Arturo Fuente Jr., the brother of Carlos Fuente Sr. I saw this gentleman there rolling cigars. And I said, "Hey, Uncle, what are you doing here?" Arturo turns to me and says, "How can he be your uncle? He's my uncle." Turns out, he was married to Arturo's mother's sister, which made him Arturo's uncle. He divorced her and married my mother's sister, which made him my uncle through marriage.

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