When Heinrich Villiger, chairman of Villiger Söhne AG, Switzerland's international cigar giant, took up a massive pair of ceremonial scissors amid festivities Friday night to cut a ribbon at the company's new North American headquarters in Doral, Florida, the gesture was symbolic of more than just a new home for the division. Heinrich Villiger made his first trip to the United States in 22 years to announce a "new start" for the company's North American unit.
"Now, we move back to our roots," said Villiger of the division, which had started in Florida in 2001, but relocated first to Charlotte, North Carolina, under contract with Scandinavian Tobacco Group, and then to Richmond, Virginia, with Sutliff Tobacco. The new Villiger Cigars North America (VCNA) facilities, near Miami, have been open for about a month.
The move, which is part of Villiger's corporate restructuring also brings a new president to VCNA, Rene Castaneda, as well a fresh sales force. Castaneda was previously the sales and marketing vice president for Miami Cigar & Co., a distributor of such cigars as La Aurora. Most recently he was vice president of sales and marketing for the Orleans Group International, a humidor company that also sells Dram Cigars for Whiskey, an effort that Castaneda led. The chairman introduced Castaneda as the best president VCNA has had, even in the short time he's been there.
The opening of the new VCNA facility marks a focus on handmade, premium cigars for the Villiger company, which is chiefly known for its preeminence in the machine-made cigar market. The company was founded by Villiger's grandfather in 1888 and sells some 1.5 billion sticks worldwide.
The 85-year-old Villiger, who stepped down as CEO earlier this year, thanked his new team as well as other guests and was presented with a certificate by Doral City officials.
The invitation-only, red-carpet event numbered about 80 people. In attendance were La Aurora's Guillermo León, which makes some cigars for Villiger, and José Matías Maragoto, president of ABAM Cigars SRL, which produces handmade cigars for Villiger in the Dominican Republic.
Also on hand were Alejandro Martinez Cuenca of Joya De Nicaragua, Felix Mesa of Galan Cigars, Scott Chester of ACID Cigars, Albert Montserrat of Cigar Rings, and Ferdinand Kurt of the Swiss Consulate.
The affair took place under a tent outside the 5,000-square-foot building's entrance, and guests were presented with a package of three cigars. They comprised Villiger 1888 and two private stock, unbranded cigars by La Aurora and Joya de Nicaragua. Attendees also enjoyed hors d'oeuvres served with cocktails made with Zafra rum, Finlandia vodka, Herradura Tequila and Jack Daniel's whiskey as well as Korbel Champagne.
The new location not only serves as VCNA's corporate headquarters, but also as a warehouse and fulfillment center. Villiger's premium and machine-made products are stored and distributed from Miami. Pipe tobacco will be housed and distributed out of Virginia.
VCNA produces and distributes premium brands such as Villiger Colorado and Villiger Talanga as well as its newer lines: Villiger Celebration, Villiger San'Doro Colorado, San'Doro Claro and San'Doro Maduro. The United States is Villiger's largest market for handmade, premium cigars.
For much more on Heinrich Villiger, read our upcoming Q&A with him in the May 3 issue of Cigar Insider.