Melillo Returns With Foundation Cigar Co.

Nicholas Melillo, previously of Drew Estate, has branched out on his own to form Foundation Cigar Co. The new company is expecting to debut its first smoke for the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers trade show in July.

"I'm jumping out of my seat," Melillo told Cigar Insider. The 37-year-old will serve as president and chief executive officer of the new company. "The time has come for me to step out from behind the curtain," he said.

The first cigar from Foundation Cigar will be a Nicaraguan puro rolled at Tabacos Valle de Jalapa, known as TABSA, which is owned by Aganorsa's Eduardo Fernandez.

The cigar, which Melillo said will reach tobacconists around September, will retail for around $10 and have five sizes. "It's really going to express my love for Nicaraguan tobacco," he said. A brand name will be announced later.

While he won't be making the cigar in a factory of his own, having control of his production is on his radar for the long term. "I do have plans to open up a fabriquita down the road," said Melillo, using a Spanish colloquialism to refer to a small cigar factory. "I didn't want to rush."

Cigar production is in Melillo's background, as he formerly ran production at La Gran Fabrica Drew Estate, one of the world's biggest cigar factories. Melillo had a hand in blending Drew Estate's cigars, including the robust and powerful Liga Privada No. 9, which is wrapped in dark Connecticut broadleaf. Melillo began working at Drew Estate in 2003 and spent 11 years there. He was an integral part of the organization as it grew from making a few thousand cigars a day to making approximately 100,000 per day. He left Drew Estate last May and formed a consulting company called Melillo International, which still exists to this day.

"I am assembling my team in the Connecticut River Valley, home to some of the finest, best broadleaf tobacco in the world. I am from Connecticut. I started smoking cigars with my grandfather here so to incorporate some of that into what we do is very important for me," Melillo said.

Melillo added that he would be splitting his time between the United States and Nicaragua. His headquarters for now is in his home of Southbury, Connecticut, and he intends to open up a formal office later in the year in South Windsor, the heart of Connecticut cigar tobacco country. "I'm hoping to be right in the middle of the fields somewhere," he said.

This story first appeared in the June 2, 2015 issue of Cigar Insider.