Toasted Foot’s Most Fascinating People in the Cigar Industry 2015

Toasted Foot’s Most Fascinating People in the Cigar Industry 2015

Last year, while watching Barbara Walter’s Most Fascinating People of 2014, an idea came to me, “Why doesn’t someone do a list of the most fascinating people in the cigar industry?” There are so many characters in this industry, from the eccentrics like Matt Booth and Jonathan Drew to the do-gooders like Glynn Loope and Storm Boen, and each year more new and old personalities leave their mark on the cigar industry. It’s from that idea that this list, which will become an annual feature, was born.

The people who have made our Most Fractionating People in the Cigar Industry 2015 list come from all area of the cigar world, from manufactures and retailers to cigar media to executives. The only requirement for making the list is being fascinating, and making a significant contribution to the industry during the year.

MostFascinating2015

Note: Unlike our annual Top Ten Cigar List, there is no ranking to the names that make the list, and although there are ten individuals on this year’s list, some years there will be more and some years there will be fewer.

So without further ado, I present Toasted Foot’s first annual Most Fascinating People in the Cigar Industry list…

Eric Guttersom – Cigar Dojo
Many of you probably know him, but as Master Sensei instead of by his real name. Eric Guttersom is the owner of Cigar Dojo, the largest online community of cigar enthusiasts in the world. Their Cigar Dojo App allows users connect other cigar smokers anywhere they might be, so that you will “never smoke alone” again. The Dojo community is a tight knit group that is referred to as the Dojonation. Master Sensei hosts the online video podcast Smoke Night Live, which features all kind of awesome cigar industry guests, and is definitely worth making the time to participate in the live stream. With a built in store finder, the Dojo app can direct users to the nearest brick and mortar retailer even when traveling. Perhaps the Cigar Dojo app’s coolest feature is also it’s newest…Cigar Wars. Cigar Wars gives users two cigar pictures, the user taps on the cigar they like better and this goes to create a real time rating list compiled from Dojo users worldwide. These lists can be broken down by price, region, Top 25, Top 100, etc. It truly is a whole new way to rank cigars. The Cigar Dojo app is certainly the most essential cigar app currently available. On top of all that, Cigar Dojo has all kinds of contests and giveaways, and often holds in person meet ups in various parts of the country. Eric has always had a positive attitude towards other cigar media members, and has frequently featured and been featured by other media outlets. (See J.D. on Dojo’s Smoke Night Live or Eric’s What’s In Your Humidor feature on Toasted Foot.) Cigar Dojo has changed the way people look at cigar media so much that Eric was awarded the Cigar Media Association’s Media Member of the Year Award in 2014. Considering all that Eric Guttersom has done to be one of the Most Fascinating People in the Cigar Industry it is kind of a shame more people don’t know his real name.

MasterSensei

 

Erik Espinosa – Espinosa Cigars
This year Cigar Aficionado finally got around to recognizing Erik’s Laranja Reserva with a 94 rating and the #13 spot on their Top 25 Cigars of 2015 list, even if it was a year after it took the #2 spot on our own Top Ten Cigars of 2014 list. Erik Espinosa first made a name for himself with Murcielago and 601 brands with EO Brands which he started with former partner Eddie Ortega, now Erik has founded his own Espinosa Cigars with its own La Zona Factory in Esteli, Nicaragua. It’s the high quality cigars coming out of the La Zona Factory, and the newfound hype they’re receiving, that earns Erik a spot on the list. After a long absence Erik has brought back the much loved Murcielago, originally made by My Father but now made at La Zona. His La Zona Habano and Connecticut are cigar that are great cigars made better by a sub-$5 price. The new Espinosa Especial and rebounded Espinosa Habano are certain to become regular fixtures in many humidors. Still, it’s the Laranja Reserva and the new box pressed Laranja Reserva Caixa that are the crown jewels of the cigars coming from Erik’s La Zona Factory. As iff Erik didn’t have enough on his plate, La Zona also produces the Protocol for Bill Ives and Juan Cancel’s Cubariqueño Cigar Co., and the cigars for Danny Moya and Nelson Ruiz’s Moya Ruiz Cigars.

Espinosa_MFPL_a

 

Abe Dababneh – Smoke Inn Cigars / Kiss My Ash Radio
Few people are as big in the cigar industry as Smoke Inn Cigars’ big hearted owner Abe Dababneh. From humble beginnings as owner of a small shop in Tequesta, Florida, Abe has managed to build a multi-location retailer empire that includes the Smoke Inn Casa de Monte Cristo in Boyton Beach. Yet, Abe’s retail success is the least interesting thing about him when you consider all the other hats he wears. The Smoke Inn Microblend Series of cigars are so impressive that they have collectively earned four Top Ten spots (including this year’s Pope of Greenwich Village at #8) and three Honorable Mention list spots on Toasted Foot over the years. His annual cigar festival The Great Smoke is among the biggest cigar events in the country, with people even flying in from other countries to attend. As the host of Saturday morning’s Kiss My Ash Radio, Abe has earned himself the nickname “Honest Abe” for being a voice of reason (and brutal honesty) in the cigar media world. Abe was recognized at the IPCPR Trade Show in New Orleans by Cigar Rights of America for tirelessly fighting for the freedoms of cigar lovers nationwide. To top it all, off Abe is a great philanthropist who most notably donates a portion of the proceeds from The Great Smoke to and uses his multiple locations to collect money and toys for the Kids Cancer Foundation.

IPCPR_2015_Day53a

 

 

Kyle Gellis – Warped Cigars
Although Kyle Gellis started Warped back in 2009, when he was only 19 years old, it wasn’t until the last two years that this boutique brand out of Jupiter, Florida really began to make a name for itself. Partnering with Miami, Florida’s El Titan de Bronze and Esteli, Nicaragua’s Casa Fernandez, Kyle’s Warped brand has had a steady stream of hits. The Flor del Valle, La Hacienda, Futuro, La Coleman and El Oso have all been tremendously well recieved.  At 25 years old, Kyle is running one of the hottest new companies to hit the cigar industry in years. Merging traditional cigars with a hipster attitude, Warped’s bearded owner has found a devout following with both young and seasoned cigar enthusiasts. Some in the cigar media are already comparing Kyle to Pete Johnson (Tatuaje) or Matt Booth (Room 101), because he is a young unique personality serving a perfect figurehead for his own brand. Kyle claims his brand won’t be releasing anything larger than 54 ring gauge, and so far the strategy of unique sizes seems to be working for him. If all that wasn’t enough to earn him a spot on this list the fact that he has two cigars in our Top Ten Cigars of 2015 (#9 La Colmena & #1 Flor del Valle Sky Flower), as well as a cigar in our Honorable Mention list (El Oso) certainly qualifies him for our Most Fascinating People in the Cigar Industry 2015.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAQVAAAAJDdiNDY3ZDNkLTJhZjgtNDQ5Zi1hNTc5LWIxNjNkOGQ4ZTU1Mg

 

Storm Boen – Cigars for Warriors / C.A.T.S.
Storm Boen, U.S. Army Sergeant First Class, has served as Sergeant of Training for the State of Texas, has has multiple deployments around the world and taught various martial arts to many organizations. Suffice to say that, Storm can kick some serious ass, but it’s kicking ass in  the cigar industry that earns Storm his place on our list of Most Fascinating People in the Cigar Industry 2015. Storm is the Chairman of Cigars For Warriors, whose primary mission is collecting and distributing cigars and cigar accessories to American Service Men and Woman (from all branches) serving overseas in combat zones. It’s a great cause, as cigars are one of the most requested items from troop serving overseas. Storm is also the owner of the C.A.T.S. (Cigar Aficionado Trades & Sales) Facebook Group, which is a great online community that began as a place for those looking to find good deal on cigars, trade with other aficionados and find information on cigar events. Over time, this CATS has become close knit community that has become an online family for many. Unlike some groups, CATS members remain positive, not bashing the cigars each other post, because it is more about coming together over a shared love of cigar culture than anything else. The group has even spawned an annual CATS Fest, held near San Antonio Texas each year. CATS Fest IV will be coming up in May 2016, and if the past events are any indicator, it should be an amazing event. Because Storm Boen’s leadership and dedication to Cigars for Warriors and CATS he is definitely one of the Most Fascinating People in the Cigar Industry.

IPCPR_2015_D4_10a

 

Hirochi Robaina – Finca El Pinar Robaina
The tobacco grower turned cigar blender Hirochi Robaina has been the source of a lot of cigar news over the past year. Alejandro Robaina, Hirochi’s grandfather was considered Cuba’s best tobacco grower, and received the honor of having government owned Habanos S.A. name the Vegas Robaina in his honor. Hirochi took over his grandfather’s plantation. Hirochi is the first Cuban grower to visit the U.S. while growing tobacco for the Cuban government. Last year, Hiroshi announced that he’d be partnering with Cubanacan to create a brand named HR, that would be produced in Nicaragua. The first HR cigar was released towards the very end of last year, just a tad too late to make anyone’s Top Ten lists, to much fanfare. Then this year, it was announce that La Corona, the factory where HR was made, was ending it’s relationship with Cubanacan. Shortly before the IPCPR Trade Show, it was announced that Hirochi would be ending his deal with Cubanacan, and instead partnering with Bill Paley’s La Palina to produce new Nicaraguan releases for La Palina. During all this the fate of the HR brand remained in limbo. Cubanacan kept taking orders for the cigar at IPCPR, La Palina was handing out samples of it at their booth, Hirochi claimed he owned the blend, Luis O. González (of the La Corona Factory) claimed that the “HR” trademark was his. Now the HR brand is tied up in an over $800,000 trademark lawsuit in the Federal District Court of Southern Florida. Quietly, it has been made known that La Palina and Hirochi have decoded to go their separate ways due to all the controversy and legal disputes. Where does all this leave Hirochi Robaina? Well, he’s still Cuba’s top tobacco grower, and he’s definitely one of the Most Fascinating People in the Cigar Industry this year. What will happen in the coming year is anyone’s guess, however we urge you to check out Cigar-Coop.com as he has covered this story in more detail than anyone over the past year.

Hirochi-Robaina_a

 

Jorge Ahued – Stogies World Class Cigars
It’s hard to love the lancero vitola and not know who Jorge Ahued is, as he’s done more to promote the vastly underrated cigar size than just about anyone else. Beginning life as a small little cigar shop next to The Palm Restaurant, after Jorge Ahued and Jordan Finn took over Stogies it grew to become Houston’s premier cigar spot. With a public smoking lounge featuring eight big screen HDTV’s, dominos tables, spots for cell phone charging and tons of seating. Stogies also features a members only lounge with 24 hours access, meeting space, HDTV’s, cigar and liquor lockers. What makes Stogies truly world class is it’s massive inventory.  At his Jorge’s gigantic (nearly 10,000 sq. ft. after their current expansion) store in Houston, Texas lancero lovers will find 110 different lanceros in stock, as well as the H-Town Lancero Series that has earned a spot on both our Honorable Mentions 2014 and 2015 Lists here at Toasted Foot. The Stogies 20th Anniversary Cigar from Room 101 took the #6 spot on our Top Ten Cigars of 2015. If all that wasn’t enough to earn the Stogies’ owner a spot on this list, his annual Big Damn Cigar Jamboree & Wingding (which will celebrate its third year in 2016), is one of the best cigars events in the country and features all kinds of boutique cigar manufacturers. With all his success it wouldn’t be shocking if Jorge had a huge ego, but instead he is as humble as he was when he was working at the tiny little shop next to The Palm. For his contributions to the retail world of cigars over the past year, Jorge Ahued definitely qualifies as one of the Most Fascinating People in the Cigar Industry.

IPCPR_2015_D4_11a

 

Oscar Valladares – Oscar Valladares Tobacco & Co. 
Many who once visited Rocky Patel in Honduras where greeted by Oscar Valladares who took them on a bus ride as wild as any New York cab. Now, Oscar has managed to gain a quick following as the man behind Leaf by Oscar. The Leaf by Oscar brand, a collaboration between Oscar Valladares and Jim Robinson, features cigars wrapped in tobacco leafs in place of cellophane. The Leaf comes in four blends (Connecticut, Sumatra, Corojo, Maduro) and sports a pounded agave band. More than just a tobacco wrapped gimmick, the Leaf by Oscar is a wonderfully flavorful band. Working with Byron Duarte, the master blender at Oscar’s new Danli factory, Oscar has significantly expanded his line this past year. At the 2015 IPCPR, Oscar Valladares Tobacco & Co. debuted the new Island Jim No. 2 (which looks like a No. 2 Pencil), the Woody by Oscar (a massive 27” x 100 event only cigar) and the Big Johnny (8” x 66 originally made for Jim Robinson’s Leaf and Bean). There’s even a line of Leaf by Oscar Lanceros that are limited to one store per state (in Texas this is Stogies World Class Cigars for obvious reasons).  With more and more retailers carrying Leaf by Oscar, the brand is likely to gain even more of a following Oscar’s from bus driver to brand/factory owner story is one of those awesome tales that seem to happen more often in the cigar industry. Oscar Valladares’ success story this year is one that make him of the Most Fascinating People in the Cigar Industry.

Oscar_Woody_Instagram_1a

 

Hans-Kristian Hoejsgaard – Davidoff of Geneva
His may not be a name the average cigar smoker is familiar with, but Hans-Kristian Hoejsgaard has had a substantial impact on the industry during his tenure as Davidoff of Geneva’s CEO. After time spent at Seagrams and Moët Hemmessy Louis Vuitton (MHLV), Hans-Kristian joined Davidoff of Geneva as their Chief Executive Officer in 2011. Since joining Davidoff, Hans-Kristian has overseen a massive rebranding of the company’s cigar brand portfolio. In 2013, Davidoff created the new “Black Label” line when it released the Davidoff Nicaragua, a cigar that was a critical and retail success. Starting in 2014 with the facelift of the stalled Camacho brand that included a bright color scheme, adoption of the scorpion logo, new “piano lacquer” boxes and reblending the core line, Davidoff began giving several its cigars a more modern look. In 2015, the Winston Churchill brand was folded given a new look and incorporated into the “White Label” line, and the Avo brand received a band, box and vitola overhaul. Next on the list of cigars due for an update is Davidoff’s neglected Griffin brand. At the IPCPR Trade Show in New Orleans, Davidoff unveiled the Avo Synchro Nicaragua and Griffin Nicaragua. Following up on the success of the Davidoff Nicaragua, the Davidoff Escurio, featuring Brazilian Mata Fina and Cubra tobacco, was added to the “Black Label” line. Allowing Matt Booth to do his own thing with his Room 101 Brand, has given Davidoff inroads with younger hipper cigar enthusiasts. Trying to extend some of the Room 101 success to the rest of the Camacho brand, Davidoff created the Camacho Board of the Bold, consisting of Mike Ditka (NFL Hall of Famer), Rob Weiss (HBO’s Entourage) and Matt Booth (Room101), who each have their own Camacho brand. For overseeing the turnaround and new renaissance of the Davidoff of Geneva brand portfolio, Hans-Kristian Hoejsgaard is one of the Most Fascinating People in the Cigar Industry who prefers to stay behind the scenes.

Hans_Kristian_Hoejsgaard_a

 

Steve Saka – Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust
Former Drew Estate CEO, Steve Saka spent eight years working for the company in various roles before announcing his departure in 2013. During his tenure, Drew Estate saw itself grow from a small boutique company to one of the larger cigar manufacturers. During his time at Drew Estate he oversaw a ton of successful releases including Liga Privada No. 9, Liga T52, UF-13, L40, Feral Flying Pig and Dirty Rat. After a two year hiatus from the cigar industry, Saka has made his much awaited return to the business. Along with his wife Cindy, Steve Saka founded Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust to produce “Puros Sin Compriso®” or “cigar without compromise.” The company’s sole focus is to “produce the finest cigars possible without exception.” With the release of Dunbarton’s first cigar, avid cigar enthusiasts seemed to expect more from Saka than any other manufacturers due to his reputation within the industry and heavy social media presence. The Sobremesa, Saka’s first Dunbarton cigar, doesn’t disappoint. The cigar earned the #10 spot on our Top Ten Cigars of 2015 list. Few cigars have been as eagerly anticipated as the Sobremesa. Since Saka seemed to generate so many expectations and then exceed them, he certainly qualifies for a spot of our list of Most Fascinating People in the Cigar Industry 2015.

Steve-Saka_a