Desmond Sautter, the founder of Sautter of Mount Street in London, died on March 19 at the age of 83. He was a pioneer in the storage and selling of fine cigars in the United Kingdom.
As a young man, Sautter worked for a time in banking and after serving in the army he returned to the bank only to find himself bored and looking for a new challenge in his mid 20s. He invested £4,000 ($6,600), buying a small kiosk to sell cigarettes and pipes on Oxford Street, which was soon bustling with customers.
He grew his company to the point where he had two extremely successful London pipe shops, eventually becoming the largest pipe retailer in London. His stores were very popular with American and German collectors of estate pipes.
Simon Chase, formerly of Hunters & Frankau, said that in 1979 Sautter bought the almost derelict Moss Elkins tobacco shop on Mount Street. On the day Sautter visited to view the store, he actually found the owner asleep on the counter. Sautter's plan was to turn the store into another pipe shop, but he soon realized that pipe use was in decline and decided to focus exclusively on cigars, and to "do it properly," he said.
At the suggestion of the then-managing director of Hunters & Frankau, Sautter travelled to Geneva to see the city's new cigar stores and returned to London intent on creating a cigar store that would rival their standards. He opened his eponymous shop in 1961.
He worked with shop-fitting and humidification companies to create the very first walk-in humidor in the U.K. at a time when the majority of retailers there presented cigars on the shelves without any humidification. This allowed him to have many hundreds of cigar boxes on display in perfect condition. He also invested heavily in stock and aged cigars for his customers.
In the first week of the new Sautter Mount Street store he knew he was on the right track when many new and prominent customers started to find their way to his door. One of the store staff told the story about a visitor who stopped into the shop and looked at the customer in front of him and recognized him as Roger Moore, then turned to the person in the line behind him and whispered, "Look, that's Roger Moore," only to realize he was talking to Sean Connery.
Sautter took an interest in old, pre-embargo cigars, saying he "loved the bands, the designs and the old shapes of cigars, and because it was fun." The oldest cigar he ever acquired was from 1855, and he told a story of smoking a small double figurado from a time when Cuba was still the "Island of Spain." He gradually built up a significant collection of pre-embargo cigars, which eventually grew to more than 10,000 in number. He once said that as collectors started vying for long-lost cigars in the London cigar auctions of the 1990s, he found that the collection became "not just enjoyable, but also very viable."
Sautter's little shop is still very much as it was when it opened. You are as likely to find yourself sampling a cigar alongside a five-star General or a London cabbie. Chase said that he recalls meeting an American military man who told him he had discovered the store following an overheard conversation in the men's room at the Pentagon.
After 49 years in the business, Sautter retired to his beautiful thatched riverside cottage in Essex in 2006 to spend a well-earned retirement traveling and gardening with his wife, Pamela. He would make an appearance—always impeccably dressed—at the Hunters & Frankau summer cigar parties.
Edward Sahakian of Davidoff London described Sautter as a lovely man and a great friend. They had traveled together to Cuba over 20 times, and Edward said "as you do rarely in life, we really clicked. He was a great companion."
Laurence Davis, the new owner of Sautter's store described him as "One of the true gentleman of the cigar industry."
When asked to name the best cigar he had ever smoked, Sautter spoke of a trip to Cuba he took in the late 1980s. Hotel conditions and the food in Havana were very poor. He took a trip out to Pinar del Río to see the tobacco fields, and a suckling pig was roasted and cold beer was found. That evening, with the sun going down, he and his colleagues smoked Romeo y Julieta Grand Coronas. "You just had to be there," said Sautter. "It was most acceptable."