An Interview with Litto Gomez and Ines Lorenzo-Gomez

Owners, La Flor Dominicana

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It is great to work with Dominican rollers. They are very noble people. They don't need to talk to the supervisor before they talk to me. I am on the floor all day and I sit with them while they are making the cigars and they can talk to me. Any problems that they have, they don't have any block in communication with me. We have been able to keep all our rollers, even through the war of rollers. We have the same supervisors.
The factory continues to change, but with the new things that I want to do. There are better ways that I want to process the tobacco. I start to think everything is OK, and then the next week I will install a whole humidity system for one room to ferment the tobacco with a higher humidity because it is going to ferment better. So I change it. It is a continuous quest to improve what you do because you hear from this person or you hear from the other master. I have a lot of communications with people that have been in the tobacco business for decades, and every time that I have the opportunity to speak to one of them, I always learn something. Everybody has their own way of doing things better, and even though I see how they do it, I come back and I am probably not going to do it exactly like they do it. I'm going to do it with my own changes that I think can improve it.
All the cigarmakers have a tremendous pride in what they do. We are continuously looking for improvement. It doesn't matter how much it costs. You can get any corporation into the cigar industry with perfect marketing, a perfect system and economic structure, and everything, but if they don't have somebody that is passionate about tobacco, it is never going to help. There is no system that is pre-established that you can go and create a structure and then make a good product. You need that guy that is in the factory to be passionate. When he goes into the factory, everything in his life stops, and he begins to look at tobacco and work with it and do beautiful things with it.
Look at all the successful cigarmakers. Their life is dealing with good tobacco and trying to make the best product that they can make. But they are always looking for something new that is going to blow their minds when they smoke it. That's never going to stop for me. We will always be doing new things.
Lorenzo-Gomez: I think a lot of what we've done is done precisely because our background was not in tobacco. Many cigarmakers tend to follow a process that somebody else started. For us, we had no background, we had nothing to follow. Everything had to be created. Of course, we listened to the advice of the people that we know, and everything else. But change wasn't so drastic for us, because this was something new that we were creating. We didn't have to do things like another generation.
Gomez: We learned the basics. It's like, once you have the basic rules of playing football, you can play, but the way you play, it is up to the player. Or it's like a great chef. They all know the rules but they are going to put their own personal mark on it. This is how we have to work in cigars, because it is something that people are going to taste. It is about flavor. It is about taste. Anybody that doesn't have the sensibility of different tastes from one leaf of tobacco to another has no place in the business. You need to have that sensibility. You either have it or you don't.
CA: Getting back to the factory for a minute. You had a fire there in 1999. How serious a blow was that?
Gomez: It was very serious, because we had a lot of irreplaceable cigars in that room. It was only the cigar room; thank God the fire didn't get out of the cigar room and burn the whole factory. It could have happened. We were about a half an hour away from it happening. Thank God it didn't, but we lost a lot of product that is in very high demand.
CA: How many cigars did you lose?
Gomez: Four hundred thousand. But we had cigars in there like "A's," that are made with Cameroon wrapper. We had been making those cigars for 10 months, picking the leaves that were big enough. You know Cameroon leaves don't come that large. So we were picking the leaves for those cigars for a long time, and I finally had made about 20,000 or so, and they were all gone. We also lost about 60,000 El Jockos, and we always have a waiting list for them. It broke our hearts. We've recuperated, because there's plenty of tobacco now. We don't have those cigars anymore, and it would take probably five or six months to rebuild the inventories of those cigars. But we are coming out of it fine.
CA: Did you design your own marketing and advertising campaign?
Lorenzo-Gomez: As a matter of fact, to this day Litto is still taking 99 percent of the pictures for our ads. We used to hire photographers, but photographers don't always have the same eye or they don't always know exactly what we want.
CA: What about the cigar band and things like that?
Lorenzo-Gomez: Litto created the cigar band, the pouches that we use, the ads--everything. We don't work with marketing agencies. That is why when you asked me about marketing, I went blank. It works for us, because it is just the two of us, and we can make a decision right away. We don't have to go through the process.
Gomez: It is over a cup of espresso, at Starbucks. That s our company meeting. It is very simple.
CA: Isn't it a problem because you two are usually in two places, Miami and the Dominican Republic?
Gomez: Yes, but we just talk about major decisions. We come to an agreement. It's very fast. Everything happens quickly. The next day, it is being practiced.
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