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A $20 Nassau

An old Cuban master and an Italian Entrepreneur make Graycliff cigars in the Bahamas
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Dennis Hopper, Jan/Feb 01

(continued from page 1)

"All the rollers here are stars. They were the best from Cuba," says Lara. "The experience and tradition of Cuban cigarmaking is being used here."

Lara compares himself to a conductor, with the gallery as his orchestra. Unlike the London Philharmonic, however, the working area for this orchestra shouldn't be described as a pit. The rolling room is air conditioned, a rarity in the cigar-making world, and the workers sit on chairs that look as if they've come straight out of a Staples catalogue, rather than the typical wooden chairs found in most cigar factories. It's about as pleasant as a cigar factory can be.

"I like living here, because the work is very good, much better than in Cuba," says Felicia Lazo, who rolled cigars at Havana's H. Upmann factory before coming to Graycliff. "We are very few, so we work well together."

This is not a big cigar company. Garzaroli says his workers made 650,000 cigars in 1999. In August, he released a new brand called Bahiba (the name, says Garzaroli, is a combination of Bahamas and Cohiba). If his new brand is a hit, Garzaroli hopes to push annual production closer to 1 million.

The work at Graycliff is unhurried. A roller and buncher team combines to make about 320 cigars over the workday. Workers take their time, rolling Graycliffs without the aid of bunching machines, the same way it is done in Cuba. They share a joke amongst themselves, or poke fun at Garzaroli's Spanish, which has heavy traces of his Italian accent, like his English. The good-natured boss enjoys the ribbing, and gives it back with a hearty chuckle.

"In Cuba, they had all this pressure when they worked; they worried how they could help their families. Over here, it's tranquil," says Garzaroli. "Here their mindset is to make the best cigar -- everything else is taken care of."

He smiles. "But Avelino is tough. They know they won't get paid [for bad cigars]," he says with a chuckle. "Unlike Cuba."

Garzaroli designed the Graycliff cigar factory to be the centerpiece of a new miniresort. The rolling room sits alongside the Humidor restaurant, a separate eatery from the Graycliff. Hotel rooms are only steps away from the factory, as is a gym and a swimming pool. The goal is to allow visitors the chance to experience luxury while witnessing cigars being made.

There aren't many places in the world where aficionados can tour a cigar factory. Havana's Partagas factory is open to visitors, as is the La Aurora factory in Santiago, Dominican Republic. But neither facility offers the resort atmosphere of Graycliff.

"I think this is really the only place in the world where you can come, sit in a cigar factory, eat dinner and smoke cigars," says Garzaroli. He's sitting in his aging room, which doubles as a posh cigar parlor. Pavarotti is belting out an aria on the CD player, and Garzaroli is turning another Bahiba into ash, sitting comfortably in a leather chair.

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