Too many Chefs in the Kitchen
An Editorial by David Garofalo
It’s been going on for a while and when I hear of it, it always sparks my attention and creates lots of interest and discussion in the cigar lounge but it seems to me to never work out as I had expected. I’m talking about a cigar maker or owner of a cigar brand teaming up with another owner of a cigar brand or cigar maker to put their heads together and collaborate on a blend for a cigar or a project of cigars, which I call “collaboration cigars.”
The first one I can remember in my years in the cigar business was early in 2003 when Christian Eiroa from Camacho Cigars and Litto Gomez from La Flor Dominicana agreed to make each other’s brand. Only 5,000 LFD cigars made by Camacho and vice versa. The collaboration would be known as “Face-Off.” Lots of advertising, packaging and hard work went into the sale of just a total of 10,000 cigars between the two companies, and the cigars sold for just under $7 apiece. I’m no rocket scientist but according to my calculation, nobody made any money here and the cigars are not even talked about except by a few cigar fanatics like me, who with little control, smoked the last ones I had years ago. The point here is, you probably never heard of it and they never did it again and I can’t see how anybody made any money on it so it must have been unsuccessful.
The Faceoff was the first collaboration cigar I can recall but certainly not the last. Ernesto Carrillo did a collaboration cigar with General Cigar, the company who bought his La Gloria Cubana brand almost two decades ago. Carrillo now owns his EPC brand but this collaboration was not for his or their brands, it was for a one and done line called “Re+United”, not to be confused with United Cigar.
Manuel Quesada who owns Fonseca and Quesada cigars and Jose Pepin Garcia of My Father Cigars didn’t team up themselves but their daughters did with a brand called Tres Reynas, meaning the three queens describing the three girls. This was another $7 smoke that quickly disappeared.
Ernesto Padilla of Padilla cigars tried it with his friends at Oliva Cigars, and Dion Giolito made a brand called Nosotros with Jonathan Drew at Drew Estates but they too both disappeared very quickly.
Rafael Nodel from Boutique Blends and Aging Room was asked to blend a Romeo y Julieta for Altadis and he did but the collaboration soon ended. Rafael is now working with EPC’s Ernesto Carrillo with Oliveros All Stars and trying it once again.
Another one and done collaboration brought Pete Johnson from Tatuaje together with Altadis but not for a Romeo but for an all but dead brand called Henry Clay. Yes, Altadis tried this not once but twice with again little success if you put into consideration as I mentioned the upfront costs and packaging for a low-priced cigar… so why do it again? Maybe to spark some life into Romeo by putting a “boutique” spin on it and who better than the owner of a company called “Boutique Blends.” And you get the same with Pete Johnson with the added benefit of bringing back to life a lifeless brand called Henry Clay. Maybe it’s not profitability but good long-term positioning for Altadis, is what they are looking for.
Today, we see a collaboration of hot newcomer Robert Caldwell working with Drew Estates on “All Out Kings.” Drew Estates is no boutique company anymore, their parent company Swisher International might believe the collaboration works for the boutique appearance it will give it back… they may be right but production numbers are tiny and it cannot be profitable but for them, maybe it won’t matter if this is the approach.
General Cigar is doing a Hoyo de Monterrey called “Hoyo La Amistad” with A.J. Fernandez. Swedish Match who owns General Cigar owns lots of factories but choses to have a brand made by a small boutique guy? For what? I’m sure it’s not the small guy calling the big guy, this is for appearance and not profit… it can’t be.
All that being said, let’s talk about the cigars. In the past, they have never worked out financially, and they never kept going, not one of them. Arguably they were never really that good in both sales or profit and added no longevity to the brand. There has never been a stand out exceptional blend that I can recall or that any publication called outstanding. It’s a collaboration cigar, two companies working together as one if you will. Two ideas blended together to create one cigar. Does this really work in any industry including the cigar industry? I think I can go on record and say it has never worked. It’s just my opinion but maybe two is too many chefs in the kitchen.