Introducing Dapper Cigar Co
Six years ago, Ian Reith was like many cigar enthusiasts that are reading this article – he was a consumer with an ambition to make a cigar. His aspirations would take him on a journey across Central America and introduce him to several influential people in the industry.
As soon as we met Ian at IPCPR and sampled his cigars, we knew that we had to bring him into the family and get the word out about his product. We believe that Dapper is a truly special company: a throwback to the hard work, grit, determination, passion, and single-minded attention of yesteryear.
What follows is some Q&A with the man himself, Ian Reith of Dapper Cigar Co.
How’d Dapper Cigar Co come to be?
Honestly, I started my journey in cigar-making 5-6 years ago as a cigar consumer who just wanted to make a single cigar. My background is in tech, so… cigar making is a pretty far stretch. In the process of trying to just make one cigar (Cubo Claro) my fascination got a little out of control to say the least!
Another interesting backstory --- I originally started the "Cubo" project making a square pressed cigar. (This was right about the time that R.P./D.E. Java was re-released as a square pressed cigar.) At the beginning, everyone possible around me who knew what I was trying to do was giving me advice. And, for a minute I actually took advice like this seriously, despite much of the gimmicky-ness. Hence, the name Cubo: Cube – Cubo. Brilliant, right? Not so much. :)
After a bit of this, I just got a little frustrated with everyone's input and started listening to my inner gut. Gimmicks were one part of the cigar industry I really loathed... and I still hate that part of the industry. And at this point I determined that if I were going to make cigars, I'd listen to my own tastes and preferences and make cigars that reflected what I loved about the history and culture.
So there you have it. I reached out to my good friend Dan Gretta and we turned the ship around on the aesthetics. We set out to make brands and cigars that were both nostalgic in feel but fresh in presentation. But I'm pretty terrible with naming things in general, so while I had an initial cigar line, I couldn't think of a company name. I had a neighbor Chris Alvarez who was focused on old school barber style hair cuts that I used to go out and smoke cigars with on the patio every night. He took one look at the Cubo band and cigar and said ‘Now that's a dapper cigar...’ The term resonated nostalgia, so that's how the name came to be.
Where are your cigars made and how did those relationships develop?
Tabacalera Carreras: Cubo Claro | Cubo Maduro
These are made at Tabacalera Carreras with Gonzalo Puentes. I met Gonzalo at his wife's restaurant in Esteli (Restaurant Cohifur) back in the day. After a long time spent at Perdomo, he was taking a break from the cigar industry and just hanging out at the restaurant and doing some consulting work here and there for a couple other large factories. Eventually, he was approached by a few people just to make small runs of cigars. He really took me in and I watched him go from doing this to basically growing Tabacalera Carreras to where it is now.
NACSA: Cubo Sumatra | Cubo Oscuro | El Borracho | La Madrina | Desvalido | Siempre
These are all made at Nicaragua America Cigars S.A. This relationship came about through Gus Cura and the Oliva Tobacco family (O.T.C.). Three or so years ago this factory was purchased out of financial troubles. (I believe Lew Rothman and a Nicaraguan counterpart originally started it back in the day). Since acquisition, the new owners have invested millions in building this factory to be aimed at producing high quality cigars. I was lucky to be at the start of this and because of the people involved I bet the house on em'.
While the roots of the owners are in the growing/fermenting business, their attention to every little detail and the continuous pursuit of improvements is massively impressive. The attention to manufacturing excellence combined with access to O.T.C.'s vast inventory of tobacco is really a dream come true for me.
What’s the inspiration for the cigars in your lineup, and what is the blenders intent?
Cubo - Inspired by everything traditional I loved about cigars growing up. The Claro embodies the kind of cigars I watched my dad smoke. Typically these were Connecticut wrapped and medium in profile.
The Maduro is a blend that appeals to Gonzalo because of the aromatics. He's a huge aroma fan and we really honed in on his particular love for the lower primings that give off that sort of aroma. Boxed inlassic cabinet slide top boxes, these are dressed in beautiful warranty seals that are just my nostalgic taste for old school cigars.
Blenders Intent: The Cubo lines are aimed at being more Light to Medium cigars that broadly appeal. I want them to appeal to cigar geeks but also be approachable to people who haven't smoked before. Hence, the nicotine levels are turned down and the aromatics, sweetness, and smoothness are turned up.
El Borracho - I was reading off cigar names to my wife one night (she's Hispanic) and she mentioned to me that many of them sounded like they were based off the La Loteria card game that Mexicans play a lot. Sure enough, lots of these cards are also names of cigar brands: La Sirena, El Mundo, La Calavera, El Corazon are just some that come to mind. So, I checked out the cards and the only one that really resonated with me was El Borracho (The Drunkard).
It was also around the time I met Carlos Guzman and wanted to use his San Andres. So, it all just kind-of aligned. Padron has such a legacy when it comes to the whole San Andres / Nicaraguan cigar game, so I figured what the hell... I'm going to do my own take on a box pressed cigar with that basic composition so that I could give my elitist cigar friends who smoke only '26 and '64 Padron Anniversaries something different to smoke.
Blenders Intent: El Borracho is meant for the seasoned cigar smoker who appreciates a balanced full bodied Nicaraguan cigar which gradually builds on the flavor profile and intensity.
La Madrina - I've always been real fascinated with Day of the Dead / Santa Muerte artwork and branding... I just couldn't get the right take on it for application to cigars. Then, John Huber from Crowned Heads released Las Calaveras... which I was super impressed with. So I really just wanted to one-up them. :)
In my opinion, Sante Muerte really highlights life & death in beautiful imagery. Conveying death in a beautiful manner isn't probably the best approach for cigars, but I believe we conveyed this beauty in the presentation. This cigar's a personal reminder to me to live life to the fullest extent knowing at any time death can be right around the corner.
Blenders Intent: La Madrina is meant for the seasoned cigar smoker who craves intensity and complexity all at once.
Desvalido - Roughly translated, this is a term some Cuban's have used to identify people without hope. This term resonates for me because it reminds me of all my initial beginnings in the cigar industry. Being an outsider to the industry and the trials and tribulations put me in that category at many times.
The band has a rooster as it's main element. I was born in 81, so that's technically a symbol of my birth year for the Zodiac Calendar. Dan & I then decided to glorify the hell out of it by making it as regal as possible. A contradiction of sorts to the whole term of being without hope: fighting and clawing our way into the industry.
Blenders Intent: Desvalido is my attempt at making cigars by combining tobaccos that I'm very familiar with and like and tobaccos I haven't given a shot because of my personal taste or bias. For instance, I'm not a huge fan of Honduran tobacco or many Dominican Tobaccos as well. And, I typically stay away from using Nicaraguan Wrappers. In working with Raul D., we've really worked some blending magic to get some of these underdog tobaccos into spots where they can really shine.
Siempre - Completely inspired by two events happening at the same time: firstly, I'd gotten VERY sick with a lung ailment (unrelated to cigars) called Valley Fever and for several months I was very concerned about my ability to continue smoking cigars. Secondly, the FDA's announcement to regulate the premium cigar industry.
Like many recent boutique cigar makers, these announcements were soul crushing. I literally thought everything I'd worked towards building would be thrown away by government regulations beyond my control. But, it was a real gut-check moment for me. Instead of holding off, waiting, or getting out of the business... I stomped on the pedal and made the decision to go all in.
Siempre is Spanish for "Always" and is a reminder to me that my pursuit is to always continue making the best handmade premium cigars I can despite any and all roadblocks.
Siempre is my attempt to try and exceed the very best cigars I've ever smoked as a consumer. This is our highest end line of cigars and one in which I've thrown out all the constraints that we deal with in other brands. It is medium-plus to full in profile and strength with lots of complexity.
Blenders Intent: Because we threw out many of the constraints, these cigars are higher priced and are meant to be an occasional celebratory cigar.
What’s the hardest challenge you’ve had to overcome so far as a brand?
Money! Unfortunately, I'm not from money... and, as someone in the business once told me, the best way to make a million bucks in the cigar industry is to start with 10 million. Because I'm self-funded, it's a constant challenge to put the money into where it needs to go.
And while I'd love to throw advertising dollars at every cigar publication, I tend to focus more of my money into the production of the cigars and their presentation. When I do spend on the promotional front, I tend to focus it on making promotional items that are just as high quality as the cigars. I care deeply about our customers and I want people to wear and use our swag in public... not just for mowing their lawns with!
What does the next two and five year plan look like for Dapper?
Survival and Growth. If the FDA continues to get what they want, we want to release all of our core lines into full production. If the FDA goes away, I can add different packaging and different vitolas to the lineups and expand our offerings. (Sampler Boxes, etc.)
Because I've spent all my time in production and back-of house duties, I'm focusing a lot of effort over the upcoming years in getting our sales and marketing side of the business in order. Being able to get national rep coverage is a big task we're taking on as well as getting into stores and making connections with consumers all over the country.
Lastly, a large goal of mine personally is on the education front. I won't go into specifics, but I'm working on a way to integrate all of my stories, learning, and experiences in this industry to really dive deep and get consumers involved with all the very specific parts that go into making our cigars.
There's a lot of myths and bullshit involved in the industry and I believe much of it is due to the mysteries behind cigars and tobacco in general. I'm personally in love with the art of cigar making in its pure form... and I'd like to share all aspects of that with my customers. So, some exciting stuff on this front soon to come!
What’s your favorite cigar moment?
My favorite cigar moment is when I finally released my first cigar (Cubo Claro) and gave it to my father. We both sat out on his porch and smoked a couple in the Toro vitola. I think I caught him off guard a little.
That was a pretty gratifying moment.
Talk to us about the people involved with Dapper Cigar Co:
Dan Gretta - My good friend and artist extraordinaire. We've worked together for quite a long time now (8 years?) and I really believe we make a great team. Our branding process bounces between him and I and go through countless iterations... and we spend about 2 years on each project before we see the final results.
It's a grueling process on both of our parts but his desire to keep pushing the enveloping in terms of design is really one of the key components that makes our cigars look and feel the way they do. Without his sheer talent, none of our products would be what they are.
Gonzalo Puentes - Over six years ago, he was one of the very few people in Esteli who accepted me in and worked with me in my initial education about cigar production. Very few people wanted anything to do with a small run cigar – especially with some gringo visiting Esteli every couple months. He took me into his family and we've spent countless hours working in cigar blending and all forms of cigar production. And in the time since I've seen him grow Tabacalera Carreras from a 2 pair factory in a house to what it is now (~2 million cigars a year).
Gustavo Cura - I walked into Oliva Tobacco Co's (O.T.C.) operations in Esteli a few years ago trying to buy small amount of Connecticut Broadleaf without knowing anything about it at all. Gus intimidated the hell out of me and definitely pointed out that I didn't know what the f*ck I was doing. And, he was right!
But, this guy's got a heart of gold, and ever since then he and the folks at Oliva Tobacco Co have done so much to help me in my pursuits. If there's anyone that knows the art of tobacco growing & fermentation, it's him. And, what I know now and am continuing to learn is in huge parts do to his kindness and friendship.
Anyone that knows me knows that I spend lots of my time highlighting the usage of tobacco I primarily get from O.T.C. and there's a reason for this. These guys have been growing & fermenting tobacco all over the world for years. I'm very grateful that I've been able to cultivate a such a great relationship with them. Without their tobacco none of this would be possible!
Raul Disla - I've known Raul for a couple years now and have worked with him on numerous blends to include: El Borracho, La Madrina, Cubo Sumatra, Desvalido, Siempre, etc. The relationship I have with Raul reminds me similarly of the relationship I have with Dan G. Raul's a superstar when it comes to blending and cigar production.
When we iterate through blends, Raul's the voice of reason and experience. Much like the design process, the blending process is very similar. We're slightly tweaking blends over and over again and Raul's minor tweaks are where magic happens. He's always in touch with the very best tobacco O.T.C. has and he's always one step ahead in making sure the tobaccos we do use is something we can continuously get for future production.
Also, I believe it helps that our palates are very similar in taste: we're really in sync with where we want the cigars to ultimately be at in terms of taste and profile.
Vrijdag Premium Printers - Designing bands and warranty seals is just one end of it. Actually making the designs come to life is a whole ‘nother animal. Through a very nice gentlemen named Nelson Alfonso (Atabey, Byron, etc.) I was introduced to Vrijdag in Holland.
Printables are a very expensive ordeal in the cigar business and thankfully, Toine, Jan, and Eric W. really took a chance on me and worked hard on getting the affordability to print with them possible for a smaller sized company. And they still continue to work with me on this year after year! Six years ago I never dreamed I'd be able to print with a company as honored and as historic as Vrijdag.
One of the highlights of my time in the industry thus far was at the IPCPR show this year when they showed me their latest client portfolios books and to see that 4 of our printables made their showcase book. I was speechless. To see your brands right next to Opus X, Padron, San Cristobal, Cohiba... it gave me goosebumps.
Micah Johnson and the Cigars Limited Crew - I've known Micah for years and years as a consumer. And as a retailer he's a beast! When I expressed interest in getting into the cigar industry he really did everything he could to introduce and start me off with folks that might be of some help. Plus, he's really helped me understand the cigar retail business. It's something that I spent a few years helping him with so that I could learn a little bit about that end of the business.
Starting from scratch in such a very closed industry is difficult to say the least, especially if you're from outside the industry. I can name several big names in the industry who not only didn't give me the time of day, but actually discouraged me from getting into the business. I'm really glad I ignored all of them. ;)