The New Old Guys: Ventura Cigar Company

Ventura Cigar Co., the new California company behind the launch of the new Pura Sangre and Estilo Cubano premium cigar brands, may not be a familiar name to many cigar smokers, but the startup is the brainchild of storied companies with long histories of selling cigars and tobacco products.

Ventura is a subsidiary of Kretek International Group Inc., a Moorpark, California company that has been selling tobacco products for three decades, mostly to convenience store chains. Kretek has a very big business selling little clove cigars under the brand name Djarum. Kretek is an Indonesian word for a clove cigarette—the word is meant to describe the crackling sound made by burning cloves contained in the cigarette.

Kretek, which dates back 30 years, bought the Philips & King name ten years ago, and consolidated the two into one company. Philips & King is a 100-year-old company that supplies cigar shops with cigars, accessories—virtually anything they need.

“We will outfit an entire store,” said Dr. Mark Cassar, president and chief executive officer of Kretek, during a recent interview in New York City. The company moves thousands of boxes per month of premium cigars, and counts thousands of stores among its clientele. It has exclusivity on 75 products, including special sizes made by some of the bigger cigar companies, and specializes in what Cassar calls “fill ins,” when a company finds itself in need of an order. “Our niche is nooks and crannies,” he said.

“Smaller places that don’t buy direct.” Cassar, a former chiropractor who joined the family business, said his company long yearned to make a cigar brand. “Making our own brands is something we’ve always wanted to do,” he said. His family has known the Plasencia family of Central America for many years. “Every year, Nestor and I would get together,” said Cassar. On the third day of one long trip, while smoking cigars, Cassar noticed a cigar sticking out of the shirt pocket of Nestor Plasencia Sr. “I ask for one of those,” he said. He smoked it, and enjoyed it. “That’s what I want,” he said.

That blend became Pura Sangre, and the meetings led to the creation of Ventura Cigar, the Cassars’ venture into high-end, premium cigar sales.

Kretek set up Ventura (naming the company after the county in California where the Cassar family has always lived) and gave it its own sales force. Ventura had its coming out party last summer at the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers show.

Ventura has two cigar brands, one of them made at the Plasencia’s Tabacos de Oriente factory in Danlí, Honduras, the other at Plasencia Cigars in Estelí, Nicaragua. Pura Sangre, the top-of-the-line smoke from Ventura, is made in Nicaragua from all Nicaraguan tobaccos. There are four sizes, none thinner than 52 ring gauge: Double Corona (7 inches by 58 ring), Churchill (7 by 52), Torpedo (6 by 52) and Robusto (5 by 54). The brand is limited in production to 250,000 cigars, due to the age of the wrapper leaf.

Estilo Cubano, which is made in Honduras, has a Nicaraguan wrapper, and a mix of Honduran, Nicaraguan and Costa Rican tobaccos inside, with a heavy emphasis on ligero leaf. It comes in four sizes: Robusto Gordo (4 3/4 by 52), Toraso (5 3/4 by 54), Matador (6 1/2 by 56) and Lancero (6 by 38).

Estilo Cubano, which comes in boxes of 20, with the cigars standing upright, sells for $5.35 to $6.70 per cigar. Pura Sangre, packed in boxes of 20, sells for $8.80 to $11.50 per cigar.

While the Plasencias have no ownership in Ventura, general manager Patrick Hurd said, “It’s truly a partnership.” Cassar described how his family’s long history in cigars and cigar shops means the stakes are high on this venture. “We’re careful,” he said. “I have a lot more to lose if I don’t bring the right thing to tobacconists.”

This article first appeared in the May 22 issue of Cigar Insider.