Interview: Bryan White of 13th Floor Cigars
Today we are happy to have Bryan White of 13th Floor Cigars. Bryan recently teamed up with Will Herrera of El Titan de Bronze to release his first cigar, the Foundation Blend. We reviewed this stick a while back, so check it out here.
Everyone, please welcome Bryan!
Questions About You:
Where did you grow up and where do you currently live?
I grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona and currently live in Gilbert, AZ
When did you first get introduced to the joy of cigars?
I would have to say the first cigar, like most of us was a Swisher Sweet back in my high school days. The first premium cigar that I smoked was some kind of a Punch Tubo that was given to me by a great friend when I was in my early 20’s. We were at a place called Copper Canyon Brewery drinking their “Pentium Porter”… goofy I know, but the brewery was right down the street from a big Intel factory… That was the start – I absolutely loved it and more than anything enjoyed the time just hanging out with a great friend.
What is it you most enjoy about a great cigar?
I love spending time with friends and family and getting to know people that enjoy the same passion for cigar smoking.
What are some of your favorite smokes (other than your own of course)?
I really enjoy most of the lines that Pepin has put out. Along with Dion’s Illusione & Epernay lines. When I am feeling extra special – Opus X and of course El Titan de Bronze is always in my normal rotation. I am constantly trying new brands, the older classics, and everything in between.
How many cigars do you smoke a day?
It all depends, usually 1 or 2, other days if I am lucky a few more.
How would you describe your palette?
My favorite smokes are in the medium to full range. Like most I enjoy a complex smoke that keeps me interested from start to finish. Regarding flavor, I am pretty wide open; it really depends on the time of day and what I am pairing the cigar with.
What did you do before getting into the cigar industry?
Right out of college, I landed a sales job in the hardware & software industry – that is where I really cut my teeth in sales. I’ve spent the past 13 years in Sales Operations & Consulting in several different industries both domestically and internationally.
Questions About the Industry:
Can you give us the timeline of 13th floor, and tell us what sparked that initial idea to start a company, and specifically a cigar brand?
The idea for 13th Floor came about in 2009. I have always had an interest in starting my own business and with that phrase, “if you love what you do, you’ll never work another day in your life” at the back of my mind, it propelled us to look into creating our own cigar brand. I began talking with good friends and my local shop owner about our idea and away we went. We talked with several manufacturers, and although we were met with some great opportunities – meeting Willy Herrera (El Titan de Bronze) sealed the deal. I called Willy directly and he gave me an opportunity to explain our concept, brand and our vision. After a few conversations we coordinated a meeting in Phoenix while he was here for an event. From there my wife and I flew out to Miami and met with Willy and the El Titan de Bronze family – the deal was sealed. They are an incredible group of people, they understand the business, treat their customers like gold, and make some of the best cigars in Miami.
I had several ideas on blends and discussed our overall strategy with Willy; our Foundation Blend has been met with great reviews so far by some of the online review sites along with shop owners and folks in the industry.
Regarding packaging, we spent an incredible amount of time working on our company branding, logos, and packaging. As I mentioned my wife has really been with me every step of the way on this as we set out to build a “family” business. With that said, my brother is one of the premier graphic designers in the action sports industry and his specific area of expertise is in company branding. I feel very fortunate to have my brother along with us – I feel that we have virtually unlimited horsepower with him running the creative aspect of our business. Always good to know you have plenty of throttle, right?
What have you enjoyed most about the cigar industry?
I have really enjoyed the relationships I have built in the last year and know that this is just the beginning. I am also absolutely fascinated with the blending process, getting to a final product and ultimately watching someone smile as they smoke your cigar.
Over the years, most cigar companies have been in the family, but a new trend seems to be developing, where brand owners have less of a family history (Illusione, Tatuaje, 262, etc.). What are your thoughts on this trend and how you fit into it w/ 13th?
I really believe it adds a fresh new dynamic to our industry. You have brand owners that are truly passionate about the industry and that is fueling a surge in high quality premium cigars by boutique cigar manufacturers. As I have mentioned before, 13th Floor is a family business; although we don’t have a history in the tobacco industry, I have involved my family in every way possible. I mean, even my kids draw pictures and give us ideas from their creative little minds.
Who has inspired you w/in the industry?
I have drawn inspiration from several people in the cigar business, here are just a few:
- Pete Johnson – for his ability to build an iconic brand, great cigars and partnership with a Master in the industry like Pepin.
- Dion Giolito – for his ability to blend some of my favorite cigars on the market right now.
- Willy Herrera – for his ability to connect with people and build relationships along with his knowledge and vision in the industry.
Describe for us your perfect day.
I just got back from vacation and was lucky enough to have a perfect day in San Diego. Walk on the beach in the morning with my kids and wife with a cup of coffee and a cigar in hand. Breakfast at Kono’s on Pacific Beach in Ca. Relax on the beach and play with my kids. Lunch at Stone Brewing in North County. Back to the beach . Dinner, drinks, and cigars on the 13th Floor watching the sunset. And now back to real life.
Questions About the cigars:
You’ve involved your family quite a bit in this process. I remember you emailing me the day before you were going to finally sit down and smoke the 13th with your dad. How did he respond to that first time y’all smoked the 13th?
This was one of the most special nights that I have had in a very long time with my Dad. My Dad was a big cigar smoker back in the 70’s and he used to tell me about smoking those big green candela churchills back in the day. He worked for the bank at the time and he talked about being able to smoke in his office, crazy times right? Being able to sit there and have him smoke the cigar that we created and watch his face light up was absolutely priceless. I am so fortunate to have the relationship with my Dad that I do. I talk with him on a near daily basis and he has been our biggest fan!
What have you enjoyed most about working with ETB and Willy?
I can’t say enough about working with ETB. In has been a pleasure from the time that I made the first phone call to see if he was interested in working with us to our first trip down to Little Havana. We have a true partnership, we are not just another number; I feel that we are part of the ETB family.
When you chose to work with Willy, you also chose to keep production w/in the US. Was keeping production in the US a priority for you?
In all honesty, when we started out in was not critical for us but as we started down the path, it made more and more sense to keep our operation here in the US. I wanted to make sure that we could come as close to vertical integration as possible. Our boxes are also made by a family run company in Miami and our bands are also produced in Florida.
Can you explain the trial and error of the blending process? Did you have other blends that you were happy with, but just didn’t make the cut? Will those ever show up in the future?
We were fortunate enough to have really nailed our Foundation quickly without a long series of re-blends.
You named your first cigar Foundation Series. Where did you come up with that name? And for future blends, will you play off that name or go in a different direction?
We’ll release at least 1 or 2 more blends in the Foundation line. You are exactly right, we felt Foundation defined exactly where we are at the point – I think we have some pretty creative ideas that are on the drawing board for the next 12 – 18 months and beyond.
What was your initial production run? Do you plan to expand this in the future or keep it a small, boutique brand?
Our plan is to remain a boutique brand focused quality over quantity and on delivering blends that people really enjoy. Regarding size, well only time will tell and our customers will dictate our growth rate.
What will your distribution model be? Strictly B&Ms?
For right now we are really focused on supporting our local B&M’s. We are in the process of working with a few true B&M’s that do offer an online option and will ship our cigars. We feel this will be a great way for people to try our smokes if we haven’t had an opportunity to open an account with their local retailer.
How do you feel the Foundation Series is set apart from what other blenders and companies are releasing?
Our first blend in the series really brings together a great combination of tobaccos from various regions. I love Nicaraguan tobacco and marrying this up with an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper provides a great flavor profile.
Are there plans to expand the size offerings on the Foundation Series? If so, is there a timeline?
As you know we kept it pretty simple – Robusto 5×50, Toro 6×52, Churchill 7×50. We have a couple of ideas going for a special release within our first blend – no timeline at this point.
Are you working on any new blends for the future? If so, is there a timeline for that?
Yes, we are already discussing the next blend within this series – I love Maduros so eventually I know we’ll have at least one somewhere down the road.
Will the Maduro have the same binder and filler, or be a completely new blend?
Not sure – again have a few ideas but not 100%.
What are some of the remarks you’ve heard about your cigar?
We have received a lot of great input so far. People are really enjoying this blend. As a brand owner you love to hear from someone that you have made their “rotation” of cigars so to speak. I have heard from customers that we have made their favorite “top 5” – that really means a lot to us and tells me that we are hitting the target with this first blend. It’s also great to hear friends that weren’t really cigar smokers now asking me about what kind of humidors they should buy – now that’s cool!
Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
In 5 years… I would hope that we have expanded the brand with a few additional lines, nationally known and respected. In 10 years… I would like to be in a position to meet with you for a follow up interview and Mojitos on my new fishing boat in Miami.