Twenty-five years ago, in the summer of 1995, I sat down in my new office in New York City, pulled an ashtray out of my bag, slapped it on my desk and fired up a cigar. It was my first day at Cigar Aficionado magazine, and I started off with a smoke, a Hoyo de Monterrey Excalibur No. III.
I was excited to be there, so excited that I had brought my own cigars to work, a classic case of bringing coals to Newcastle. When Gordon Mott came in to check up on me, he smiled when he saw me smoking and told me cigars come with the job.
It’s hard to believe that day was 25 years ago.
I was a kid back then, or close to it, with a head of black hair. I had been working for a small business magazine published in Westchester County, New York, for the previous five years, hired out of college. It kept me busy, and I asked for every assignment they would throw my way, but I felt unfulfilled. That business magazine had a small circulation and there was absolutely no feedback from our readers. My words would go on the page, but outside of my family, I wasn’t really sure who was reading what I was writing. I wanted to work for a magazine that people read, and I wanted to write about something I actually enjoyed.
I had smoked cigars for quite some time, and I had started reading Cigar Aficionado in 1994 after seeing an ad for the magazine in The New York Times. I began pestering every person on the masthead with phone calls, faxes (remember those?) and old-fashioned letters before getting my first assignment, a feature about CEOs who smoked cigars. It was published in the Jack Nicholson issue, Summer 1995. (The magazine was a quarterly back then.)
Soon after filing, I saw another, far smaller ad in the Times’ help wanted section that read, quite simply, “Cigar Aficionado Magazine is hiring.” After several interviews, including a final one held while smoking Punch Double Corona cigars at Marvin R. Shanken’s home, I was hired to join the team. My first day was in July 1995, which put me at that desk smoking that first cigar.
I wasn’t the executive editor back then of course. My first job was senior editor of a new project for the company, a newsletter called Cigar Insider that debuted in January 1996. I spent the first several months immersing myself in the cigar industry: Marvin and Gordon sent me to the industry trade show in Orlando the week after I was hired, then I was sent to California for the first of several Big Smokes, and then an epic, and immensely educational trip to Miami, the Dominican Republic and Cuba. I came back with filled notebooks and a whole new view and appreciation for this wonderful industry.
This job has been far more than a job. I’ve met amazing people, forged friendships that have lasted decades and have traveled around the cigarmaking world—Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras, Jamaica (back when plenty of cigars were rolled there) and Nicaragua to better understand the way cigar tobacco is grown and how cigars are made. It’s a fascinating business, one that remains largely (and blessedly) untouched by modern technology and one that demands patience, time and understanding. Cigars are made the old fashioned way, in a method that just can’t be sped up.
Perhaps the greatest gift of this job is the connection I feel with the readers of Cigar Aficionado. I’ve met many of you at our Big Smokes, I’ve read your letters and emails and I’ve seen your comments on our website and on social media. I’ve long said that this magazine has the greatest readers in the world. Your passion for cigars and for Cigar Aficionado is the mighty steel frame on which this publication has been built, a foundation that has allowed it to continue and prosper since Autumn 1992. We wouldn’t be here without you.
Aside from the day I married my wonderful wife, Manuela, and the day our son was born, I can’t think of a moment that brought me more pleasure than that summer evening 25 years ago when Marvin R. Shanken shook my hand and told me I was hired.
Thank you for reading my words for all of these 25 years. And as far as I’m concerned, we’re just getting started.