Rolando Reyes Sr., the founder of Puros Indios cigars and the man behind Cuba Aliados and many other brands, died on Sunday evening in Miami. He was 89.
Reyes Sr. began working around cigars in Zulueta, Cuba, 80 years ago, when he was nine years old.
“I worked in a small factory, where I wasn't only being taught how to roll cigars, but how to handle everything you had to do. They taught me everything, so I could learn how to start rolling,” he told Cigar Aficionado in an interview published in 2006. “From there I went to a factory in Remedios called Aguilar and then I went to Havana to work in José Piedra. And from there, I went to H. Upmann.”
In the 1970s, Reyes emigrated to the United States and opened a small cigar factory in the Cuban enclave of Union City, New Jersey. He called his cigars Cuba Aliados, which means Allied Cuba, taking the name from a Cuban bus line. He moved his factory several times, first to Miami, then the Dominican Republic, before settling in Honduras in 1990. His company’s cigars are still made there to this day.
“He was a one of a kind,” said his grandson, Carlos Diez, the president of Puros Indios Cigars. “Rolando was an inspiration to many in his industry, with a tireless work ethic and an extreme dedication to his craft. My grandfather has been around this industry so long that many of the great manufacturers of today have come to him at one time or another for help and guidance, but left our factory with an incredible life-long friendship.”
Christian Eiroa, who made cigars for many years at neighboring Camacho Cigars, said of Reyes Sr. “He was a good guy—I loved him.”
Reyes Sr. did things his own way. He would sleep during the day, preferring to do his work in the evening. “I start at 10 at night, and I'm done at 4 or 5 o'clock in the morning,” he said in the Cigar Aficionado interview. “I am quality control. I like to work at night, because there's no one to bother me, and I can concentrate better in detail on what's wrong with a cigar…You have to concentrate. I like to inspect every cigar.”
Reyes Sr. took great pride in raising farm animals, many of which could be found walking around near his old factory, and growing vegetables. His last project was starting a farm in Honduras, and growing his own tobacco. The company had recently begun using the tobacco in cigars called Cuba Aliados Cabinet, which went on sale a few months ago.
A public memorial service for Reyes Sr. is taking place tonight in Miami, at Caballero Rivero Woodlawn, 3344 SW 8th Street, from 5 p.m. until midnight.
For more on Reyes, read "A Conversation with Rolando Reyes Sr."