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A Conversation with Rolando Reyes, Sr.

The creator of Puros Indios and Cuba Aliados cigars speaks to Cigar Aficionado.
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
"24", Jan/Feb 2006

Few of the men who run cigar companies are great cigar rollers. Rolando Reyes Sr. is the exception. His talented hands have worked cigar tobacco since he was a child in Cuba. After he learned how to roll simple parejos, or round cigars, his tutors recognized his potential and taught him how to craft figurados, the complex shaped cigars that are the most challenging to create. In 1975, he left Cuba, taking his skills to the United States and, later, to Honduras, creating the Cuba Aliados and Puros Indios brands. Many credit him with bringing the diadema shape to the American cigar market.

Cuba Aliados was a hot brand, but a lawsuit between Reyes and his distributor, Cigars by Santa Clara N.A. kept it off the market for most of the cigar boom. A recent settlement returned the brand to Reyes.

The 82-year-old Reyes recently sat down with senior editor David Savona for a comprehensive discussion about cigars, tobacco and restoring Cuba Aliados to its former stature. His grandson, Alex Diez, translated.

David Savona: Let's discuss how you got started in this business. How old were you when you came to the United States?
Rolando Reyes Sr.: I was 51. I came 30 years ago.

Q: Did you open a cigar factory right away?
A: In Union City [New Jersey]. It's still there. It's still open. We have a retail store. That's a part of me I don't want to part with. I was working there, but it wasn't enough production for the demand, so I came to Miami. And in Miami there wasn't enough either, so I went to Honduras.

Q: Tell me about Cuba Aliados—didn't the name originate from an old bus company in Cuba?
A: It's the same name—the bus line used to be called Aliados, and I named the company Aliados. It means "allied."

Q: When did you first start making cigars?
A: In Cuba. I was nine years old.

Q: Were you working at home?
A: I worked in a small factory, where I wasn't only being taught how to roll cigars, but how to handle everything you had to do. They taught me everything, so I could learn how to start rolling.

Q: Where in Cuba was this?
A: Zulueta. From there I went to a factory in Remedios called Aguilar and then I went to Havana to work in José Piedra. And from there, I went to H. Upmann. The boss at H. Upmann was a friend.

Q: Were you known as a very good roller in those days?
A: Yes.

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