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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

When the cigar market boomed in the 1990s, Nestor Miranda, creator of Don Lino, seemed to have caught lightning in a bottle. He had an established brand that sold so well it was on back order even though production had more than tripled in two years. But when things looked brightest, his cigar manufacturer stopped supplying him.

Suddenly, the director of Miami Cigar & Co. found himself with a great brand but no cigars to maintain it. His annual sales plummeted from 12 million to 3.5 million.

Miranda struggled to recover from this adversity, ultimately suing the billion-dollar company that had supplied him to get back on his feet. The suit was successful, but the brand was also off the market for two years. Recently, Miranda, 62, sat down with senior editor David Savona to talk about his ups and downs in the cigar business, and how he has tried to reestablish Don Lino.

David Savona: You've been in the cigar industry quite a while now. Can we go back and talk about how you entered the business?

Nestor Miranda: I've been smoking cigars since I was 17, in Cuba.

Q: You were born in Cuba?

A: I was. I used to steal cigars from my dad. On Sunday, I'd go to the park and light a cigar and look like a big man. Everyone would look at me and say, ''Look at that guy with a cigar.'' It was like a lonsdale maduro—Regalias el Cuño. They used to make cigarettes. I always liked cigars. Always. My father smoked cigars, my grandfather smoked cigars. Actually, my grandfather used to carry 10 cigars in the pocket of his guayabera.

Q: Ten cigars?

A: And big cigars—Churchill size. So I think my genes came from my grandfather. I've always loved cigars. I was in the liquor business [in 1987 or '88 when] I was introduced to a roller who worked for Mr. Guillermo León [of La Aurora S.A.]. And he was rolling cigars, and the guy with him said, ''Would you like to have one?'' And it was a big Churchill, a León Jimenes Imperiales. It was nice. So I lit the cigar and I loved it, and I said, "I represent a [brandy] brand called Cardinal Mendoza, from Spain. I think we can come out with cigars and brandy. They can go very well together." He said, "I'm going to send you a humidor from the Dominican Republic—see what you can do with it." He sent me a humidor. It had 40 cigars—gorgeous. I said, "Man, this is beautiful." I called him and I said, "I like it, but 40 cigars is too much. How much is it?" He said, "$35." So when I saw the price and the beautiful cigar, I talked to my manager, and I said, "I think I have the item to promote Cardinal Mendoza." He said, "I love it. Let's buy 200." So for two boxes of Cardinal Mendoza, we gave away a humidor full of cigars. It was totally a complete success. So ever since that day I started developing an interest in cigars. My wife [Mariana] was doing nothing at the time, so I said, "Why don't we start selling cigars?" And we started selling cigars in liquor stores.

Q: Cigars were much cheaper back then. Tell me more about those old days in the cigar business.

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