When Edward Sahakian opened his Davidoff shop in London, he was visited by a very special guest who carried a very special present. “On the first day of the opening, Zino came in,” says Sahakian, referring to Zino Davidoff, creator of the Davidoff cigar brand and chain of shops bearing his name. It was May of 1980 and Davidoff had a present for the new store owner, a box of Cuban cigars that were new to the market. “He presented me with a box of Dom Perignon cigars. And he wrote on it, ‘Dear Edward, smoke but don’t smoke too much.’ ”
Sahakian showed the patience and class he is known for, vowing not to rush his enjoyment of that box of Churchills. “I said, ‘Mr. Davidoff, I promise you I will smoke only one out of this box every year on the anniversary of the shop. And when I smoke the last one, I will retire.’ ”
Cuban Davidoff Dom Perignons are packed 25 to the box, a layer of 13 resting atop a layer of 12 (though 10-count boxes also exist). Things went according to plan for more than a dozen years as Sahakian enjoyed one of the cigars every year. “I religiously did that for the first 13 years. So the first layer of the box went. Come the 14th year, when I took a cigar from that second layer, I said, ‘My God there’s only 11 left.’ So I started skipping years,” he says with a guilty smile. “I didn’t want to finish—I wanted to keep my word to Zino. And I still have about seven or eight of them left.”
Sahakian is now 76, and he’s clearly in no rush to retire. It’s not yet spring in London, and Sahakian’s cigar store is closed to visitors due to pandemic rules, but looking at the man one would never imagine it’s not business as usual. His tie is perfectly knotted, a proud Windsor knot sitting just below his close-cropped, gray beard. His three-piece suit is elegantly pressed, and he’s sitting comfortably in a chair, a skinny cigar in one of his hands.
“What are you smoking?” asks a virtual visitor. The answer is one part expected, two parts surprising. He has a vintage Cohiba Lancero—sort of.
“This is the first half of the real cigar,” he says, holding up part of a slim smoke to the camera. “I call it the petit lancero.” Anyone who knows the world of Cuban cigar vitolas knows there is no such thing as a petit lancero in the Havana lineup. The example being puffed by one of the most learned men on the subject of cigars is the result of careful tobacco surgery—he cuts the cigar into segments before smoking.
“I always cut about two inches of it—smoke it, until I finish this—and then I light up the other half,” he says with a smile.
Is it a traditional move? Absolutely not. But who can question the cigar authority of Sahakian? He’s been selling cigars for 41 years, and over the decades has built a reputation for being one of the world’s foremost retailers of Cubans. Among his accolades is the Habanos Man of the Year Award for the retail division. So you can forgive him for cutting his cigars into pieces.
“It’s no secret my father loves lanceros,” says the younger man with a head of hair down to his shoulders who sits next to him. Eddie Sahakian is 48 and for the past 13 years he has been working alongside his father at the shop. Eddie, who also did a stint in the store in the early 1990s, went into investment banking in 1999, but the financial crisis of 2008 ended his career. “When it went wrong, it went really wrong,” he says. His father smiles when thinking about 2008 for it brought his son back to the store. “I had not thought about working in the shop again,” says Eddie. “It was like stepping back into heaven.”
Things change slowly in the Sahakian world. The chair Edward is sitting on during the interview is original to the shop. “We did have to recover it twice,” Edward says with a smile. “All this modern technology is not my cup of tea. Eddie picked up that end of it. It’s a very good combination. We have something old, something new.”
Eddie has brought the store into the world of social media, expanded its Internet footprint and lengthened its reach beyond London. “I’m still learning,” he says. “We’ve tried not to dilute too much of the timelessness of our business, but of course the Internet, like it or not, social media, like it or not, has to be embraced and that’s really been a wonderful challenge. I got to come in and not just ride on his coattails but stand on his shoulders. Learn, and watch him, how he operates.
“The biggest bonus,” he says, “is working right next to my father.”
The elder Sahakian has smoked some of the world’s most prized cigars, and he casually mentions how he has 30- and 40- year-old smokes at his reach. But he’s come to realize that there’s more than just aged tobacco that makes a cigar special.
“When you smoke a cigar, what makes it best is not only the cigar itself. It’s the time and place and people you enjoy it with,” he says. Among his most treasured smoking experiences are those he has shared with his son.
“As father and son, we sit there on a Sunday,” says Edward with an easy smile, his voice soft and pleasant. “This last Sunday we sat at home, we had a lunch and the kids were upstairs playing with their iPads. The wives were having a conversation. [Eddie] said, ‘Dad, let’s smoke a cigar.’ We sat down, we smoked a cigar, I don’t even remember what we smoked—but I smoked a cigar with Eddie and that I will never forget.”