Cigars Across America: U.S. Cigar Makers
From the Print Edition:
maduro issue, Winter 93/94
(continued from page 5)
Bob Schear is not the only man who's dreamed of taking tropical tobacco leaves to the arid Vegas Strip. Rich Goldieri "semi-retired" to Las Vegas four years ago, leaving a profitable dental-ceramics business behind in New Jersey to get away from the "aggravation." But Goldieri, 50, wasn't ready to sit on his hands. When he was approached by several Cuban-Americans, he decided to open the Las Vegas Cigar Co.
Fast-forward to 1993 and you'll find Goldieri's shop right across from the Dunes hotel on Las Vegas Boulevard. What started as a one-roller operation in 1989 has blossomed to six rollers producing about 1,000 cigars daily. Inside, it's a bit more homey than most chinchales. There's coffee and doughnuts for visitors who, according to Goldieri, often hang out and socialize or talk business over cigars for hours. "It's like the old barbershop used to be," says Goldieri.
Like Bob Schear, most of Goldieri's business is conducted through the mail. Goldieri says that his 2,500-person mailing list is constantly growing because of his blend (all cigars have filler from the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Brazil, with wrapper and binder from Ecuador) and his Vegas location. Goldieri says that running a Nevada-based business hasn't deterred rollers from pulling up their Miami roots to make cigars in the West, and he uses one incentive to keep people happy: "Cash. I pay my employees very well, and I let them take their time. I'd rather have them make fewer cigars with better quality." And what will Goldieri do if Cuban leaf is available someday? "I'll have Cuban tobacco in my cigars." But for now, Goldieri isn't changing the blend. Why gamble with success?
OK, this is Los Angeles in Southern California, and you're definitely not in Little Havana anymore. Pinch yourself. The owner of La Plata, Victor Migenes Jr., is a serious drummer in a rock band. But La Plata isn't all hype. The business, started by Victor Migenes Sr. in 1947, is well established. True, the younger Migenes is only in his 30s, but he fits the scene when he says things like, "Cigars are working their way into creativity now. These Young guys are taking cigars into their own space, which is more diverse than it used to be."
Migenes knows what he's talking about. Celebrities smoke his cigars in public, like in the old days, and La Plata cigars were featured in a spot on Entertainment Tonight last summer.
Migenes also sponsors smoker nights at upscale Los Angeles restaurants like Pierre's, McCormick & Schmick's, and Ma Maison. All this is far from the way his late father ran the company, but Migenes is still very much in touch with the cigar making process. He buys leaf from Oliva Tobacco in Tampa and visits the Olivas regularly.
The effort has paid off--La Plata is selling cigars as fast as they are made. But Migenes knows that his rollers aren't getting any younger. "It's a dinosaur business, and the dinosaur is going to die. I'm not scared, but as the years go by it will he tougher."
Even with a booming business, Migenes says that someday La Plata will be gone from L.A. And there's no telling whether Migenes will want to try to make cigars someplace where the rollers are as young as the rich and famous smokers in Hollywood.
Knowing the Rules
Getting your hands on fresh cigars requires a bit of common sense and insight--along with the pure luck of living in the right part of the country or having the means or desire to get yourself there. Not surprisingly, most cigar making operations in the United States are confined to the coasts.
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