Henry "Kiki" Berger, co-owner of both the Cuban Crafters cigar shop in Miami as well as the cigar brand of the same name, died on Monday. He was 56.
Like many, Berger entered the cigar business in 1996 at the height of the cigar boom. Berger, though, wasn't just another speculator looking for a quick buck, but showed his devotion to the industry by establishing a cigar operation alongside the Pan American Highway in Estelí, Nicaragua, just down the road from Padrón Cigars.
"When I first got here, it was the time the Sandinistas had just left," Berger told Cigar Aficionado in 2003. "The country was just starting to boom. I went from a little factory to building a bigger one."
That little factory was Tabacalera Estelí, and next to it Berger erected a traditional thatch-roofed curing barn. He also planted a field of tobacco next to the structures. Berger even married a Nicaraguan woman, Karen, who would end up donating a kidney to her husband after his failed some years after the cigar operation was built.
Berger once focused on making cigars for other companies, which included boom-time brands such as Cupido, but then he turned most of his efforts to his own products, specifically Cuban Crafters and J.L. Salazar y Hermanos Reserva Especial.
In 2009, Berger teamed up with Mike Argenti and formed a joint company called Berger & Argenti. The pair released a few brands, one of which, Entubar, received a couple 90-plus ratings in Cigar Aficionado. That company has since been dissolved.
The Padrón family, who grew to become good friends with Berger and his family, released a statement about Berger's death:
"We are sorry to have lost Enrique 'Kiki' Berger, a champion of the cigar industry who was always happy to help others despite his health issues. By the sacrifice and selfless act of his wife, Karen, donating a kidney to him, his life was lengthened, giving us all additional time with this great man. The Padrón family is united in offering our condolences to Karen and the rest of his family as we pay our respects. We will never forget him; rest in peace."
A burial service was held earlier today in Miami's Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery. Berger is survived by his wife, son Jose and daughter Nicole; his sister Clara, and two nephews and a niece.