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Mariana and Nestor Miranda, Miami Cigar & Co.

In seven years, Mariana and Nestor Miranda have turned Miami Cigar & Co. into a force in cigar distribution.
Shandana A. Durrani
From the Print Edition:
Demi Moore, Autumn 96

The room is chalk white, with a table and chairs as plain as the walls. While the temperature outside inches toward 90 degrees and the air is humid, the ambience within is as cool and calm as the three people seated at the table. Nestor Miranda, his wife, Mariana, and their son, Daniel, appear at ease. Their faces are wreathed in smiles, smiles that speak volumes.

The Mirandas own Miami Cigar & Co., a seven-year-old firm that nationally distributes cigars made in Honduras, the Dominican Republic and Spain. A modern-day success story, Miami Cigar began as a small, two-person firm in 1989, distributing just 40,000 cigars that year. That number rose to 3.1 million for 1995, thanks largely to the success of its flagship Honduran brand Don Lino and Dominican brands León Jimenes and La Aurora. Not bad for a mom-and-pop shop.

We are very happy with the profits, says Nestor Miranda, president and co-owner of Miami Cigar, in his slightly accented English. The total volume is over and above expectations. Sometimes we think in the middle of the night if it is real or just a dream. But I think we deserve it. We have worked very hard for it.

That the Mirandas' cigar business is a success is not unusual, especially with the recent cigar craze. What is unusual is that the couple, who are both 53, began the business when the industry wasn't booming. In 1989, premium cigar sales were flat. While other companies in the cigar industry were filing for bankruptcy or downsizing, the Mirandas launched their firm. It didn't hurt that many of their initial contacts in the liquor business were already dealing with Nestor.

As a sales representative for Southern Wines & Spirits, a California-based liquor importer and distributor, Nestor often traveled to shows and liquor shops, making contacts and developing liaisons with retailers around the country. In 1989, at a function for the Latin Business Association at the Viscaya Hotel in Miami, Nestor and Mariana forged a relationship with a representative from La Aurora cigars. Long a cigar aficionado, Nestor spoke to the representative about doing a cigar and brandy tie-in with his company. But Mariana had plans of her own.

Nestor got together with these people and said that he would like to have a humidor, she says. And they sent him a humidor from the León Jimenes family. And I said to Nestor that it was very nice. I was bored and I said it would be nice if I could sell cigars to the liquor stores. I represented the company and they were delighted.

La Aurora was not a well-recognized brand in the United States at the time. Its U.S. distributor, Campa Imports, sold them primarily in cafeterias and restaurants. Campa wanted to expand awareness for the brand in the United States, and the Mirandas had Nestor's liquor contacts.

I knew so little about cigars, Mariana says, laughing. Meeting her now, it is difficult to believe that there ever was a time when she was ignorant about the industry. You know this size called panatela? she asks. 'Panatela' in Spanish means pound cake. This owner from a liquor store said, 'Mariana, let us buy some of your panatelas.' And I looked at him and I said that 'I don't sell pound cake.' He started laughing and said, 'Mariana, for heaven's sake! You know so little. Panatela is a size.'

Now, Miranda is recognized as one of the foremost women executives in the cigar industry. While women have always played a role in the cigar world, few have had the opportunity to establish themselves in top-level positions.

I have never ever had any bad words coming from men in the business or any lack of respect. They love me and I have an excellent rapport with my customers, she says. It was funny at the beginning dealing with a woman, but they love it. I think it has been very, very good for me because I have taken advantage of being a woman in the business and I can get away with little things like, 'Oh, please come on, you have to buy from me.' They cannot tell me no, because I am a woman.'

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