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Cigars Across America: U.S. Cigar Makers

Michael Frank
From the Print Edition:
maduro issue, Winter 93/94

(continued from page 4)

The cigars here range from robusto-sized Barons at 5 1/2 inches by a 48 ring gauge to a soberano shape called the Supreme, 8 inches by a 52 ring. Regardless of shape, the blend is constant.

Much of the business is conducted by mail, yet today a customer strolls in. Vincent leaves his wife's side to help the customer, who happens to be from New Jersey and a customer of Boquilla in Union City. "These cigars are very good. But Boquilla is the only good cigar place in New Jersey, which is why I go there," says Chris Mara. Mara buys a couple of bundles in two different sizes after smoking one cigar just to test it.

Rodriguez & Menendez is the antithesis of the vibrant chinchales found in Miami or Union City. Isaac Rodriguez, 72, is the remaining half of the partnership at Rodriguez & Menendez. He stands alone in the center of the shop and says he will no longer take new customers through the mail, but doesn't mind if customers stop by. As we speak, a faithful regular enters, walks straight past the counter into the back of the store and grabs a bundle of the Dominican-made cigars. He pays and thanks Rodriguez. The whole transaction takes less than two minutes, held up only momentarily as Rodriguez digs for change in an old cigar box used as a cash register.

Rodriguez still makes about 300 cigars here a day, but the rest are rolled in the Dominican Republic and imported with the R&M band.

Once a master roller at the Havana Partagas factory, Rodriguez is not without pride, but he says, "I am old and tired. I couldn't fill many new orders now, and I don't really want to."

Like Sharon Moore Bode in Miami, Bob Schear in Las Vegas is an anomaly in the modern American cigar making business. Like Bode, Schear is a gringo in a field dominated by first and second-generation Latin Americans--most of them from Cuba. But Schear, an avid smoker since he was 18, never gave his heritage a thought when he started Don Pablo seven years ago. "I came through Vegas on business, and I couldn't find a decent cigar." Schear and a friend saw the immense potential of the tourist market in Las Vegas and set up shop in 1986 across the street from the Stardust hotel.

At first, according to Schear, things weren't easy. "If I had known what it would take, I wouldn't do it again." Now, however, Schear has more than 6,000 mail-order customers worldwide, most of whom discovered Don Pablo on a visit to Vegas.

The business of rolling cigars is based on the knowledge and expertise of Rubin Del Tauro, an old hand from Cuba and a master roller there. Del Tauro and fellow Cuban Alberto Medina assist in the tobacco selection, color grading and curing processes.

According to Schear, each cigar has a different blend, and five or six tobaccos go into each cigar; tobaccos from Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Brazil and the United States are the ones most often selected by Schear. But Schear's annual production isn't large--Don Pablo produces only 250,000 cigars annually. Measured against other buckeyes, an average daily output of 800 cigars isn't bad.

Schear does have a problem increasing production. All of his rollers are from Cuba originally, but he recruited them out of Miami chinchales, set them up with housing and raised their salaries. These measures are atypical in a business guided by 19th-century principles, but Schear needed some big incentives to bring people from Little Havana into a town with a paucity of Cuban culture. He still faces problems attracting workers to the desert.

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