Dave Garofalo of The Cigar Authority website and podcast, shares some updates about the FDA cigar regulations. Dave is a big proponent of everything positive in the cigar industry and one of the most plugged in guys in the cigar industry and fighting for the ability to keep smoking cigars, which earned him the moniker king of the cigar industry. He’s served on all different boards about everything in the cigar industry on and off. Dave says we need to all be united and all go for the same direction of what it is. We can be competitive with each other, but 50% of our energy should be devoted to combatting the legislative and things like that. He also talks about what cigar retailers could do to step up and put themselves in a good position to make a sale of their products.
Listen to the podcast here:
Cigar Cafe Radio Dave Garofalo | FDA Cigar | CRA | Cigar Authority
Dave, I’ve been telling these guys a little bit about you on and off. Dave is the king of the cigar industry. He does a little bit of everything. He has The Cigar Authority website and podcast and then three of the biggest retail stores in the US. He’s on the Board of everything. He pretty much does it all.
Thank you. I love it. I can’t get enough. I’m doing your podcast and I’m doing one in Australia for Cigar Jukebox. We do cigar tastings every Thursday night. We have two groups of eight coming here to learn about cigars after that. While I get a chance, I’ll try to sell a few cigars if I can because pay the bills.
I’ve been getting your emails about the Cigar School. Is that what you’re doing on Thursdays?
Cigar School is something that we charge people to come to. That’s a derivative from the cigar tasting. Cigar tasting is something we do for the past three years for charities. We have two groups of eight that can come in for a charity and we teach them how to light, cut and smoke a cigar.
This is Lane Oden, this is Cigar Café Radio. I’m here with Harris and Sean. We’ve got Dave Garofalo on the show with us. He’s with Cigar Authority, with United Cigar Group and he’s decided to let us pick his brain for a little while. Welcome to the show.
Thanks for joining us, Dave. Dave’s a good friend of mine. I appreciate you spending some time with us.
Why don’t you go through a little bit of what Dave does? If you’re in the cigar world, you know. If you’re a newbie, you probably don’t. Why don’t you go through again all the things that Dave does to add to the industry?
Dave is one of the biggest proponents of everything positive in the cigar industry. He has Two Guys Smoke Shop, three locations that are some of the biggest in the country, The Cigar Authority website and podcast. Dave serves on all different Boards about everything in the cigar industry on and off. He’s one of the most plugged in guys in the cigar industry and fighting for our ability to keep smoking cigars. We appreciate everything you do, Dave. Tell us a little bit about what’s going on in your world these days.
I’m 30 years in the cigar business, just celebrated and I love it. It’s a passion of mine. That is the driving force to keep us alive. Brick and mortar retailers and legislate to have a way from us and things like that. I can’t get enough of the business, so I’ve created lots of different things as it goes on to keep myself busy. I’m all in, I’m a seven-day-a-week worker and I can’t get enough of it. That’s part of it also, if you love what you do and you’re not working. This is what I would do it on my off time, I might as well get paid for it and do it. Whatever I can do to help the industry, whatever I can do to help another fellow retailer, I’m in.
As far as legislation goes, how do you feel it’s going? Is it going anywhere positive? I haven’t heard much about any updates or how lobbying is going. Can give us an update on how that’s rolling?
We talked about it on our own podcast and people think I’m always the downer when I bring it up. These things are happening and if you don’t say these things are happening, then you’re living a life that isn’t true and then it’s a surprise to you. It’s not going good. I got into business in 1985. There wasn’t even a sales tax on tobacco products in 1985. Nobody cared about cigars and it was different than cigarettes. Now we’re being lumped in not only with cigarettes, with vape and with everything else. OTP, other tobacco products, it’s not that. Premium cigars are premium cigars are altogether different. The unfortunate thing is that the government doesn’t understand that. They’re not educated enough to know the major differences that go there.
I see Harris when I go around and he’s a proponent also. He’s a hardworking guy that is doing it. The unfortunate thing is there aren’t a lot of us and the unknown thing that cigars are different is part of the problem. The FDA, of all things this is the worst part of it, because we can be taxed and people still buy the product. There can be no smoking laws that are popping up everywhere and we’ll find someplace to smoke.
We’ve got around those things but when it comes to FDA, Food and Drug Administration, coming up with things that happen in other countries, which has no visible means to see the cigars, to charge the manufacturer hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring a product forward. These are things that are right there right now. It’s never been so scary, unknown with the FDA. They have these deeming regulations that are hanging over our heads that we don’t know what’s going to happen.
I say this on the manufacturer’s end. As retailers, we’re going to sell cigars but we may not ever have anything new. We serve on the Boards of the trade shows. There will be no trade shows. There will be nothing new. This is bad and the unknown is terrible also. What is happening, the deeming regulations are out. They have left the FDA and they are at the OMB. They have it secretly, that the OMB doesn’t have it officially but my connections tell me they have them in their hands.
Hopefully they have them in their hands and what they’re doing is scratching some stuff out because of lawsuits and things that will be pending immediately when this happens. Still some manufacturers that have been in business for six years making cigars that their brand could be eliminated that day, because the FDA is saying a cigar brand would have to be seven years or older to be grandfathered. A six-year-old brand would have to go through hundreds of thousands of dollars.
This is a mom-and-pop industry. Not only are we mom-and-pops as retailers, but a lot of the manufacturers we deal with. Brand owners are mom-and-pops, they have a handful of employees and that’s it. At that there will be devastation, there will be lawsuits, it will get dragged out, there will be no more trade shows, there will be no more products, limited releases will go away and who knows if they ever come down on us.
The State of Massachusetts, which I’m a mile north of here in New Hampshire, has put a law through that’s going to take place where they can’t give anything with a brand name on it, and this has passed. There will be no ashtray with a box purchase with a cigar brand on it. There will be no buy five, get a cigar free. There will be no tastings, there will be no anything.
This is where it begins. It goes from state to state and goes across the country. They passed it. It hasn’t gone into law yet. I don’t know what the date is or when it’s going to go. They have a weak organization there in Massachusetts. I was a retailer there for ten years. I left when the first tax was implemented because I could not get other retailers to join me and fight. When you fight by yourself, you lose. You can’t fight city hall. You can fight city hall with a bunch of people together and you all fight together. By yourself, no, you’re going to fight and lose. I fought as much as I could until I lost. I packed my bags up. I moved to another state. After ten years, the largest retailer in Massachusetts at the time closed our doors and started from scratch all over again.
Here I am in Massachusetts. We formed an organization here. We’re strong. We have a lobbyist. We fight. Wouldn’t it be nice to just sell cigars all day long? Harris knows all too well. Half our day is spent around legislation and trying to them, “We’re not asking for anything. We’re not asking for subsidies and anything. We’re asking to be left alone so we can continue to run our business selling a legal product to people of age.”
You know as well as anybody that young kids don’t want premium cigars, not at all. The government doesn’t understand that. The legislators don’t understand. They go into their local gas station, that’s where they know cigars are. They see these little pouches of flavored little blunt cigars that are basically modern day rolling papers for marijuana and they think that is what a cigar is. Until we bring them into our establishments and say, “No, this is what a premium cigar is. Let me show you the difference and teach you.”
The problem is you teach them and then they’re out, and there are new people in and it’s ever-changing. It’s a nonstop moving target and there are only a handful of people doing it. We need to get together. We need lots of people. Every brick and mortar store should be involved in some capacity. Every consumer should be in, at the very least, a member of CRA or something. We’re weak. We’re not the NRA by any means. We’re a weak, small, whole organization. The whole company, we’re talking about 300 million premium cigars sold in the United States per year. That’s less than one cigar per person. We are a small pond and we’re going to get rolled over unless we do something about it. The fact is I’m worried.
It seems historically when they use sweeping tobacco regulations have come up, the cigars have been intentionally excluded and the closer we get with these new regulations, the clearer it seems that we’re not going to be cut out of it this time.
That’s one of two options to say that we are different. There’s only one state in the country that separated premium cigars from other tobacco products, and that’s the state of New Hampshire. That was our group that put that together a few years ago and it was not very popular with the mass made cigars. The answer was that we needed to separate ourselves from them or we’re all going down together. We fought together as much as we could but we need to separate it because it is clearly different.
We have a theme on our show about cigars being an affordable luxury, but that is the case. This is a luxury product. What you were saying about we’ve got a product that our customers want, that they’re of age. You’re right. We’re not talking about kids that want to come in and smoke a premium hand-rolled cigar.
What group of seventeen-year-olds has $9 to $15 to get one cigar? They don’t. It’s not going to happen.
I’m looking at Harris when he was younger.
Nor do they want to but that’s another scary thing also because the FDA is saying that a premium cigar is $10 and over. The thing about a cigar store is you can go in there and you’re going to have a regular working staff in there, you’re going to maybe have a lawyer, somebody with lots of money, everything in between. Everybody can’t necessarily afford the most expensive cigar but the FDA is saying, “If a premium cigar is $10 or more, let’s say it’s a premium cigar at that point.”
There’s a huge gap between gas station $1 and $2 cigars and $10. There are a lot of premium cigars that are $5 and $6. You can get premium cigars for less than $4.
The FDA has never, on any product they’ve ever had in history, ever put a price. A cigar is a cigar. If I’m lucky enough to go to a trade show or make some big deal because I buy a lot of cigars at the same time and make some deal where I get some cigars really cheap so that I can do something with it or whatever. Does that make that not a premium cigar? The cigar was an $8 cigar and now I get it for $5. Does it now become a different thing? If it’s a duck, it’s a duck. It quacks like a duck. It looks like a duck. It’s a duck.
Is it MSRP or is it sale price?
You have premium cigar in New Hampshire and Massachusetts but isn’t premium in Alabama.
They left it vague, so far.
The worst part of it is we don’t know. For a couple of years, we don’t know what that is. You want to talk about getting an industry to stop. You’ve done that to the cigar industry because how much money and effort does some manufacturer put into putting a product out? Whereas you don’t know that it’s going to get shut down. How many bands do you produce? How many boxes do you make? How much aging do you go into? Everybody is in an unknown thing right now and our industry is at a standstill. If it’s going to be terrible, I’d like to know as soon as possible so that I can zag or make the change of whatever needs to go. They’re holding this information that we don’t know.
That’s the worst part of it. Something’s going to happen. If people are saying, “I don’t think it’s going to be bad or whatever,” I know something is going to happen. I don’t know what it is but it’s not going to be anything. It’s not going to be, “We decided not to do this.” There’s going to be some regulations, whatever they are, I need to know as a businessman so I can start acting accordingly and making my moves. I’m begging for it whatever it is.
Harris, remember we talked about opening up a cigar store in the Chicagoland area? How about we not do that right now? How about we wait?
Probably a good time to wait on that one.
I hated that you asked me that question because it’s such a doom and gloom question and I end up being bad news all the time. When people end up saying, “Get into it,” but you want to be naïve and make believe it’s not happening and bliss. Ignorance is bliss. Let’s not pay attention to it and we’ll be happy about it. That is the problem that happens. You’ve got a bunch of happy retailers and happy consumers out there that are making believe this isn’t happening. They’re happier than me because they’re making believe it’s not happening. You need people like me and you need people like you, Harris, that go there and we’re fighting and getting ready for doomsday and hope doomsday doesn’t happen. You’ve got to pay attention to it.
It is slowing the industry down because a guy, let’s say Sean, was thinking about opening a shop in Chicago. It increases the risks dramatically.
You know my background, Harris? I went from a risky business. I’m all about passion, doing what you love and pouring your heart and soul into it. There is no way, with the information in front of me, going to invest in that business. Sorry.
That’s a smart move at this point. Unfortunately, the industry would be growing much more with new brands, new shops and new everything if this wasn’t hanging over us.
We’re having our trade show in Vegas. We had it a couple of years ago there. Some people say when you go down there, you do a lot of gambling. I said, “I do a lot of gambling. I’m in the cigar business. Life is a gamble.” It’s one signature that the governor does that puts me out of business. Every single day we’re watching politics. I was in school, I should have paid more attention in civics class to know what was going to go on. I got into the cigar business not realizing it’s politics. It has to do with what we’re doing.
There are so much that affects this industry that’s local and state governments. This is putting a new wrinkle in it and making it with the FDA at a federal level.
This is the biggest thing ever. We worried about as SCHIP, the State Children’s Health Tax that ended up being $0.42 on a cigar. That is nothing compared to what could be happening any day.
This is pending? This is going to happen within months?
Yeah, any day.
This is a hell of a relevant podcast. I’m glad we talked. Jose Blanco talked a lot about it too. He’s as passionate as you are and we were honored to have him on. Let’s talk about something a little more fun. We like cigars. Let’s talk about cigars.
Tell us a little bit about The Cigar Authority and what all you’re doing with that. That’s pretty interesting.
It was a few years back. I don’t know where I was coming from, some third-world country looking at tobacco and cigars. I was reading a book on social media and I knew nothing about it. I was way behind the eight ball on getting on Facebook and things like that. I’m a 55-year-old guy, that’s not how I grew up. I still have a paper calendar and write notes. I’m reading it and it says in there that education is a big part of it. They’re not talking about the cigar business but it’s any business that goes on there and if you want to promote your company, your brand and your stores or whatever. You go on there and you become the authority on the subject of it.
It wasn’t Gary Vaynerchuk was it?
No, it wasn’t. He’s an interesting guy because he was very similar because he was in the wine business with his dad’s wine store. He did just that. I have read his books also, and this could stem from part of that. Become the authority on the subject that you’re talking about. You don’t just advertise but you give information to people and there are many ways to do it. It said you can do it via video, you can do it during a radio show, you can do it in podcasts and all these different things that it had. By the time I land the plane, I decided the brand was going to be The Cigar Authority, because be the authority on the subject, and I would do radio. We at one time had seven radio stations that simulcasted The Cigar Authority Show. That was before we went to a podcast.
We did video streaming on it and I said, “We can get the word out of education of what it is.” To educate a two-hour show, it would get very boring. It started off tight and then we started loosening it up like you guys do, “Let’s have a little fun. Let’s goof around.” If you give them a little entertainment, you can shove in some knowledge, they can learn something at the same time whether they want to or not. They have no choice, it comes in. We’ll have fun doing it at the same time. It has grown dramatically. Five years we’ve been doing it. I like doing it anyway, I can’t get enough as I said. We keep it up.
I want to know, you are all in a position to smoke during the show and I’m not. My wife would come down here and kick me in the balls. What cigars are you smoking? You are all smoking different ones. What are you smoking now?
In honor of Dave, this was something we’re going to bring up anyway, we’re smoking the United Cigar brand with the red, white and blue shield on it, the Toro. It’s one of Dave’s brands that are also part of United Cigar, which is a group of retailers he started that’s informational and helping the retailers. Tell us a little bit about this cigar that we’re smoking, Dave.
That is the name of the company and the brand. We were in Massachusetts, I could not get the retailers united. Thinking of what did I want to do for United Cigar help retailers and stuff, the key is exactly that cigar. Having nothing to do with what the cigar is but united. We need to be all united and all go for the same direction of what it is. United Cigar Group is education of retailers funded through that cigar that he’s smoking.
Be part of that and that helps fund the organization of it. It is at box-pressed, Dominican cigar at a lower price level for a guy that wants to spend $6 or $7 on a cigar. Very good price point for the type of cigar that it is. Has a natural in Maduro, three different sizes, nice cigar but more importantly it’s the idea of keeping that in their minds, the retailer, that we need to be united. We can be competitive with each other, but where 50% of our energy should be devoted to combatting the legislative and things like that, that is when we need to be united.
After that, we’ve got a store near each other. You want to compete with each other or whatever. Yes. Got restaurants that are near each other and they all belong to the restaurant association and yet they compete with each other. For some reason, this industry, there’s not a lot of talking back and forth, letting people know what’s going on and working together. That was what United Cigar is. Let’s get united, let’s work together and that’s the idea of it. United Cigar has been out three years or so. The company, very slow moving. We only have 50 retailers. It’s depressing to me because I expected 100 retailers the opening day and I’ve got five or six a year later. I’ve got six more and this last trade show, we’ve got about 30 more. We may be up to 50 but that is very weak. We need numbers.
If you’re a retailer, to be part of it is to carry some of the brands in there and then we’re together united. The idea on the united thing is to help us as brick and mortar retailers improve our business, do better customer service, treat our employees better. What is the right thing to do with cigar stores so that our customers aren’t buying online because we don’t know what the right thing to do is. We help each other come up with different things and build from there. It has not had legs. I’m not a quitter. I keep going no matter what. Is the juice worth the squeeze? I don’t know. I’m squeezing. I’m hardly getting any drops out of it but I believe in it. I know it’s the right thing, but it’s very hard to get others on board and behind it. That’s the unfortunate thing but a nice cigar.
It seems like in that State of Alabama, it’s the same story. You have a few retailers that are willing to pull together and work on the State association. It’s really hard to get everybody on board. We’ve got about three or four of us doing everything.
That’s how it is in every state. It’s amazing.
In Illinois, we’re heavily taxed. Competing with online stores is rather difficult here in Illinois. However, after talking quite a bit, there is a place for premium cigar stores here in the Chicagoland area. There are a few but not a ton, especially not on the south side of Chicago. It’s probably more that there isn’t a ton of participation in the trade itself. There are not that many stores. No offense to the stores around me, there’s nobody in there helping people select cigars. It’s just a humidor, you walk in, you go pick your stuff and you leave. Why would that owner give two shits about United Cigars, when they don’t care about the cigars that they have anyway?
You as a consumer, if you wanted to serve yourself, press the button and buy whatever you want and you probably pay less. All we have as retailers is customer service. Education, servicing them, telling them the story, letting them get excited about the product. There’s a whole bunch of manufacturers that are in the cigar business and I don’t want to pat myself on the back but I’m going to say it. They’re in the cigar business and we’re talking some big names out there because of me. They were my customers. They got excited about this industry because I’m excited about the industry. It’s contagious.
My employees are excited about this industry because I’m excited about the industry. It starts from this level and trickles down. If that store owner is not getting up off his butt and getting exciting, showing people a new product and telling the story, their employee isn’t doing it. If the employee isn’t doing it, the customers’ feeling like you are going into the store and they’re saying, “Business is slow. I don’t know what to do. The online is killing me,” they’re to blame.
I feel like the industry in my area is ripe for someone who gives a shit.
I know I could open a cigar store in any place in the country and wipe out the majority of the people that are there, because they don’t care. When I would go in, they wouldn’t even fight me back. Going into this thing and I don’t know the stores you’re talking about or anything. If you know that they don’t care the way it is, when you open, you’re not even going to change them. They’re not even going to fight back. They’re going to roll over and die and that’s it. It’s going to happen.
There’s a cigar that I’ve tried that I am super high on. You talked about it. You turned me on and it’s Leaf. I went into the cigar store and they had two different kinds, and they knew nothing about either kind. They knew nothing. Here it is, one of the hottest.
There’s a cigar with a story and they don’t know the story.
They don’t even know what they have.
That’s part of the problem with brands that are in United Cigar. I tell them, “None of these cigars are going to sell by themselves. If you put them on the shelf and you don’t do anything, don’t even do it because there’s no chance. There’s no advertising, there are no ratings. We don’t have enough retailers behind it to let it go anywhere. It’s dead.” A little brand like Leaf, the same thing, they’re very small. It’s got a great story. I can certainly go down there and the next person who walks in, I guarantee you I can sell him a handful of those cigars by simply telling the story.
I’m willing to put the effort in to sell something. Something like that, it’s not deep discounted online. You’re in a good position to make a sale of a product like that like you are with United Cigar brands, but you’ve got to put some effort into it. If not, you’re going to sell those big-name brands that they make little money on that they look like they’re gouging the customer to begin with and they’re not. They barely make anything because it’s serve yourself.
Serve yourself is going to be the brand you know. If the government FDA has their way, it’s going to be a piece of paper or you’re going to walk in. If you had to walk into a store that didn’t have a menu of the drinks that they had, you’re going to say, “Give me a Coke,” because the only thing that comes to mind is the most famous thing. If you can see everything that’s in there and they have a hundred different choices of soda, you certainly got to buy something else. If you had somebody walking you around that soda department and saying, “Let me show you this new root beer that came out. This root beer is creamy with a vanilla finish to it and stuff like this. What do you think?” “Yes, give me that root beer.”
Your choice of word in sales is an important distinction. I worked in the restaurant industry before I worked in IT. There was a big distinction drawn between waitstaff that would sell the customer something and waitstaff that would take someone’s order. That’s the difference between the really good cigar shops, the online dealers and the less than good cigar shops is that the first thing they’re going to do is they’re going to do this.
Perfect analogy because the best thing a cigar shop owner should do is look in any other industry. You go into a restaurant and they say, “Our appetizer today, really good is the such and such,” and that waitress is going to sell 30% of every person that they mentioned that appetizer to. The same goes for dessert, “Would you an apple pie with that?” which is McDonald’s. This is the lowest end, minimum wage worker that’s told. It pops up on their screen. You want an apple pie with that. They know they’re going to sell 27% of the people an apple pie simply by asking them if they would like it. “Do you have a cutter or a lighter?” at the register point. “I need one,” there’s going to be a percentage.
Automatically it’s going to happen. “Here’s a United Cigar. It’s a box pressed, Dominican cigar, medium bodied. Have you ever tried it before?” “No, I haven’t.” “I think you’d like it based on your thing. You want to add one to your order?” “Absolutely.” The number’s going to be tremendous of the yes that’s going to happen. At the end of the day, you’re going to sell three or four extra boxes. You need to know what to do. There’s not enough education out there anyway, and the education that’s there, the better retailers like Harris himself, want more. They want to learn more and they want to get better. The ones that need it the most aren’t interested at all.
The community wants more, at least here in the area. I don’t think that as a whole the community would support a retailer here that lets you walk into the humidor, go pick out what you wanted and come back out. That’s one of my questions for you, Sean, is it seems bizarre knowing how the community and the retailers are here in the area. I’m not just talking about Harris’ store. There are there other stores in the area that are still very service-oriented. There are other stores in the area that aren’t and they’re not nearly as well-regarded.
What are you asking? Why are we allowing it to happen? Here’s the crazy thing. I don’t know if you guys know this but I don’t live in a rural area. There are towns with 75,000, 25,000, 50,000, 60,000, 40,000 all in the area here and I’ve gone to cigar shops all across there and have not found one to do anything like they should do. Not one. I’ve asked them questions just to see what they would say and they have no idea.
Harris, you’ve got 70,000, 80,000 people within five miles of here. I can’t fathom that in Chicago, where your population density is even better than here, that it gets tolerated.
You’ve got Cigar King up north. You’ve probably heard of them. They’re one of the biggest. They’ve been around forever. That would be a place that would be worthy of what you are probably used to seeing. Unfortunately, there may have been two. The original is the only one open and that’s in Skokie. There are obviously plenty of cigar shops in the Chicagoland area or in the downtown area. We’re talking in the south suburbs, I haven’t found one yet.
That’s the thing with Birmingham. I can only think of one that’s in the city.
It wouldn’t be one of them that I would go.
I get a wild hair up my ass on a Friday night and I’m like, “I’m going to go pick something up I haven’t had before,” and I don’t feel like waiting the three days for Harris to send it to me, so I’ll go and buy one. Pay full price for it but I’ve got to beg the person to sell it to me.
I saw this first in the video store business in the ‘80s. My original partner and two guys were in the video business. It was a mom-and-pop business like cigar industry was. They were in poor locations on back streets, dimly lit stores with small inventories. This is our cigar industry, same thing. All of a sudden Blockbuster Video came to town. Blockbuster Video went on the main drag and the best location, huge inventories, well-lit, computer systems and everything, which in those days the video stores didn’t have. They would have the new releases, hundreds of copies of the new release, where the little store would have a couple of copies and a waiting list. They were able to stay in business until Blockbuster Video came to town.
Blockbuster Video wiped out the industry in one year. Total wipe out because they went in with a business sense in mind, not a guy that likes cigars that decided, “Let me put a counter up over here and a couple shelves and I’m in the cigar business now.” You sell cigars but you’re not in the cigar business. You’re not in business. You’re going to sit on the chair. You’re going to let people wait on themselves and you’re going to maybe make a better living than you did anyway. You’re going to be the lazy guy that you were always were and it’s unfortunate. At that point, the wide opening thing was mail order. Mail order for a premium cigar should have never worked because you want to see it, taste it, touch it, make sure it’s in perfect condition. That you don’t want it to spend three, four, five days in a UPS truck at high temperatures and getting destroyed as it is.
You don’t get to see it. You’re not getting the education. A person talked to you over the telephone. Should have never worked. It only worked because of the poor retailers that are out there that opened the door for them. It’s frustrating and I’m trying to change it and I’m not doing good. I’m not doing a good job at it because I’m not getting any help from the people that need the help. The better retailers are in our group and the worst ones that need the most help aren’t interested in helping.
I’m probably an example customer for that argument because the flavor profile I gravitate towards isn’t a flavor profile that Cigar Aficionado’s going to rate 92 and 94 all the time.
That’s where my taste profile is too. I’m right with you.
If I were to look online and say, “What’s a great cigar to smoke?” I won’t be upset about it. I tend to lean very hard Nicaraguan lately and I keep catching myself up on another Nicaraguan.
I thought you were going to go on the mild end because they won’t rate a milder cigar well. That’s usually because of taste burnout, you can’t taste it. I have a pretty good palate and I can taste subtleties of cigars. You mentioned early, “What cigar are you smoking?” I’m smoking number 1431. I’m a cigar taster for Cigar Journal Magazine. Every so often, every 30 days or so they send me a bag of numbered cigars where I have to blind taste the cigar and let them know what I think of it. I can’t get enough. When I was asked to do it, I have no free time. I’m like, “Of course I’ll do it.”
You are absolutely welcome to sign all of us up for that.
If you don’t want to do all of them, I’ll help.
It’s very difficult because it’s hard to do two things at once when you’re trying to do a good job and rate it. They ask so many different things of it. You’ve got to pay attention to what’s going on as you’re smoking it. I did most of it before I got on the year and I said, “I’ll wrap up my final third of the cigar at the end of it.”
Do any of them taste like blueberry muffins?
No. The guys that are on my Cigar Authority Show, they taste that blueberry muffin and stuff. I don’t get it but they do.
Neither do I. I have to tell you that I had an Escurio, one of my new go-tos. It had been the first time that I ever truly tasted a citrus. It was like that a-ha moment like, “Holy shit.” I may have texted Harris right when I tasted it. Did I?
I’m like, “Holy shit. There’s lime in this. I can’t believe it. I just tasted it.”
I’m detecting notes of lemongrass.
I will say, I have never tasted blueberry muffin or banana nut bread either, which is another one that I’ve read.
Citrus is a very notable taste. Citrus notes, that’s right from the very beginning of this cigar that I had. To clean palette, I’m drinking tea, I’m drinking water and trying to do the best I can with what I have here. Who knows what they are. It’s interesting when they do give me the answers of what it is. What did of the cigar before I smoked it without a band on it? It’s fun.
What are some of the cigars that you are gravitating to now? Do you have any new go-tos? I rotate into things that I love and they’ll rotate out and probably come back. Are there any of them that you love now?
Some of the new stuff that came out from the trade and it hit the shelves lately that I like and is an interesting cigar, it’s AVO Syncro, which is a cigar that has Nicaraguan tobacco in it, made in the Dominican Republic but it’s blended with different tobaccos. They did a good job with it, box pressed, very interesting cigar. I like it. It’s a home run for them. Little brands like Recluse, I don’t know if you’re familiar with Recluse Amadeus. They came up with a Habano line of that.
That’s good for a brand-new thing. The Perdomo Craft, very interesting, I’m not a big drinker myself but I went through the whole process of the different beers in the different Craft Series. I don’t tend to go to Maduro cigars as myself. I smoke everything but to sit, enjoy and smoke a cigar, that Maduro or Stout as they call it on there is fabulous. It goes perfect with a Stout and again, not a big beer drinker.
Another Maduro out there that I like is the Hammer + Sickle trademark Maduro. I thought they did a good job with that. For that kind of money is a top Maduro of it. The Camacho American Barrel Aged, very interesting. Camacho was a big thing for me because I launched Camacho a year before it went out all Camacho, way back. I test marketed that cigar for a year going through all kinds of processes with, at that time Christian Eiroa.
I watch and study Camacho. I’m going to say at this point, and I’ve gone through so many Camachos of all these years, that American Barrel Aged is the best Camacho they ever made. I like what’s happening inside there. It’s subtle. You’ve got to pay attention to that barrel aged taste. It’s in there but it’s not overpowering like some of that Kentucky Fire Cured stuff that came out that was overpowering.
It takes a minute for the vanilla, the bourbon barrel to come out. It’s not an immediate vanilla presence at the start. You’ve got to get a solid two or three inches into the cigar before you’re like, “There’s the bourbon barrel aging.”
Pay attention to it, to know what’s there. If you don’t, if you’re just smoking it through, you may miss it.
The very first time I fired that cigar up, about maybe an inch and a half to two inches, I went, “Holy shit. Is this a good cigar?” Tons of smoke came out. I’m like, “This is awesome.” That was one of those ones that floored me from the beginning.
It’s funny that cigars that you’re naming, most of them are cigars that we’ve had on the show at one point or another. I do want to try the AVO Syncro but I haven’t had one yet.
Very interesting cigar, they did an unbelievable job with it. I like it. Not what you would think, if the band wasn’t on it you wouldn’t say AVO. You’d never guess it. It’s a whole different place than every other AVO that’s come up. Maybe some limited releases that have come out over the years there’s a little something to it but very different. I wouldn’t take an AVO customer to AVO Syncro. It would be a different person altogether that you would taste that.
You mentioned the limited editions. The limited editions are nothing that they come out with in there. It’s strange to me that they would go, “People like AVO but we’re going to make the limited edition nothing like we make.”
I don’t understand it. I’m on Davidoff’s Advisory Board. Typically, they give us something in advance of it and say, “Here’s the story. What do you think?” I’ll make my comment at that point and they said, “It’s too late. This is the way we’re going.” They did the Davidoff Escurio. I remember sitting down, they had it laid out and there are three different sizes of it. I said, “The first thing I’d do is skip the two sizes on both ends. There’s a little short one with two bands on it. It’s so little, forget it. Don’t even do this. This one’s a loser. The other one is too big of a ring gauge to end up tasting what I’m looking for over here. Is it too late?” They said, “Yeah, it’s too late.” What is the sense of advising after it’s too late?
I would agree with that. All those words up and you say things and then they do the opposite.
I liked the little one but I tend to enjoy short Robustos, Coronas and stuff like that.
They haven’t made many mistakes. They’ve been shooting on all cylinders lately, winner after winner. It’s tough to criticize them in any way because things are going well. There’s a company that’s doing something different, their displays that they come for the retailer who isn’t going to make a display properly for them. They come with it all done, “Here’s your display. It’s all set up, here’s where the boxes go. One, two, three, it’s done.” They see it also that the retailer isn’t sharp enough to put things properly on display, so here it is for you done. It’s that or else the thing’s going to go on the bottom shelf in the corner or whatever. They’re looking at things like that.
You have everything displayed, Harris. You do it yourself, right?
We do but it is a huge help when Davidoff sends the displays like Dave is talking about. When they have very detailed instructions, they’ve thought out every detail of it for you. One other thing I was thinking about, Dave, you’re known for doing crazy, off-the-wall promotions and huge things, giving away cars and things like that. Do you have any things that you’re working on right now or you are doing that are crazy like your normal stuff?
We just had our 30th anniversary. We gave $30,000 and a brand-new Mercedes was the prize. How it ended up, very complicated and too long to tell you how the story goes but it’s almost a game show. It’s a sit-down dinner. 500 people from fifteen different manufacturers. At the end of it, it’s a game show all night long until it gets down to the end. I’m paying people off with money and all kinds of different things. How it ended up is two people ended up getting $5,000 apiece and everybody in the audience split the $20,000 prize because we gave the $30,000 away no matter what. That was in the form of a gift certificate that they had with a blank number on it that turned into $60, $40, whatever it comes out to. 500 people divided by the $20,000 that was left. That’s how it ended up. You’ll never know how it’s going to end up.
We’ve given away a Rolls-Royce. We’ve given away a tanker full of gasoline during the gas crisis. It was 10,000 gallons of gas. Couple of years ago we gave away a DeLorean, which was a Back To The Future promo we did it. It’s to get everybody excited to us to give back to our customers who have supported us that year and the tickets sell out in a matter of one day. You have to come into the store to get it. The majority is hopefully our customers and not somebody else’s customers. It’s not a moneymaking thing. I’ve lost a pile at one time and sometimes it turns out in a good way, but it’s for giving back to them, getting everybody excited. Here you are, as far as your away you are. You hear about it all the time. It’s a nationwide promotion to a cigar store in New Hampshire. It’s crazy.
I’ve been written up in marketing publications in other countries and spoke to them about marketing and promotion. Promotion is just that. I can buy an ad in a magazine and spend as much as $20,000 and what will I get for it? I get an ad that’s showing up in a publication or I can spend that same $20,000, lose the $20,000 but do something that everybody in the United States and across the world that’s talking about it. I get lots more legs doing it like that and I’m giving to them and this reciprocity. Some of our customers that when they’re somewhere and they don’t even have a cigar, they go into a cigar store, they pick up a couple of cigars because they’re far away and then they come back apologizing that they bought cigars somewhere else. They feel like they let me down or that they were cheating on me. I said, “No. You can have a cigar.” “No. I felt dirty doing it.” I’m like, “No.”
How do you warn your neighbors that you’re going to store a tanker of gasoline next to your house?
It was next to the store. We brought it there. It was a water tanker that we had wrapped with all our advertising on it that filled pools, but it looks like a gas tanker. We put it out front and the town that we’re in, Salem, New Hampshire, that the tanker was at, the tanker was here for one hour and the town called immediately, freaking out that there’s this tanker. I go, “Between us, it’s really a water tanker. It’s really empty right now. We’re giving away the 10,000 gallons of gasoline but this is the look of it. I don’t want you to think it’s going to explode or anything like that.”
They actually came down on me about signage. They said, “You have to have it removed because it’s signage.” I said, “It’s on a vehicle,” and they said, “There’s no truck attached to it. The eighteen-wheeler truck dropped it off and there’s no truck attached to it. You have to have it removed.” I said, “It’s Friday afternoon. I’m going to do the best I can. If I don’t get ahold of him, I’m sure Monday morning they’re going to come and do it.” They said, “Do the best you can.”
Between us girls, I never called them. On Monday they came to remove it anyway. We sold all the tickets and we did everything we had to accomplish anyway. Here is a local business trying to hurt you doing a promotion. Instead of giving you a high five and saying, “This is good, it’s not hurting anybody,” you’ve got government again, even as local as it is trying to slow you down and stop you. It’s tough.
Harris has a pretty cool event coming up. I’ve got an email yesterday, Sean. I don’t know if you’d get it. They’ve got five spots left open for the trip to Esteli, the Cigar Safari.
It is not expensive enough that I’ve got to nudge Jen about it.
They give us a few spots every year for customers that can go on.
I told my wife that I was on with Jose Blanco and that if we were in ever in the Dominican that we can take a tour and her eyes lit up. She was like, “That would be really cool to do that.” I would love to do that. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty.
You never have, Sean? You’re thinking about opening a cigar store but you may not. I’m going to warn you, you’re going to go down there, it’s going to get in your blood, it’s going to sink in deep and you’re going to get into the business. You can see even people that sell out of this business. They get out, they’re gone for a year or two and they’re back in because there’s something to it. Once it gets in there, when you see, you’re going to appreciate cigars so much more after you end up seeing what goes into it.
You’re going to look at it and say, “How can it not be $100 each? How can this be $8? It’s impossible.” You’ll appreciate it more. It’s a remarkable product. Once you go through that whole process of seeing all that, the aging, the care that goes into every leaf and even the packaging part of it. Every single aspect, it’s 300 hands that are touching it. It’s an amazing process and it’s an amazing product. You’ll be hooked. Welcome into the cigar industry. I’ll tell you later in advance.
It’s like Michael Corleone, “Every time I try to get out, they pull me back in,” or Sylvio doing Michael Corleone from The Sopranos, either one.
You’ll have to go down there with us, Sean. You’d enjoy it.
I’d love to. Seriously, I really would like to do it. His setting was you could see the farm in back of him while on the podcast. It was such a cool setting. He’s speaking Spanish to people in the room. It was nuts, very fun. I’d love to see it. I hear it’s an amazing trip and you don’t look at cigars quite the same after it’s done. What else you got for him? I want to pick his brain as long as we can. Thanks for coming on. I’m glad to meet you. Are you on Twitter or social media?
I’m on Facebook, David Garofalo. I am on Twitter, @CigarAuthority. As I say, I’m old fashioned but I go on there. I throw stuff up. One-on-one, I’m better talking than trying to text it and all that. A lot of people text me. Even while I’m on air, I’m getting a couple of texts and things like that. I want to say to people, “Can we do it the old fashion way? Speak to each other?” It’s easier. I type with one finger and I like to say whatever I’ve got to say. I think about losing communication. As people are doing it, this generation is losing the art of communication.
There’s no doubt. Let’s face it, what you hear. I text people that I don’t feel like freaking talking to at the moment. Here’s the thing, I’m keeping up with you guys and not calling you every five seconds. That’s one thing. I’m going to be a pain in the ass at that point but you’re already a pain in the ass. I like one-word answers if I don’t have to chit chat with someone, but you are right. My son’s generation, he’s going to be twelve. He hardly talks to people. He hardly talks to his friends when he’s around them but when he’s sitting on his iPhone, he’s bullshitting all night with seventeen people at the time.
You know what Sean texts us? Cigar porn. It will be 8:30 at night, I’m sitting at home with my wife. I get a picture of a half-smoked cigar, “Yes, I’m smoking the AVO tonight.”
Us cigar guys like to see pictures of guys smoking good cigars. I know I do. I scroll through and go, “Yes, favorite, awesome, rock on.”
You think I’d have a picture of my wife, daughter and mother or something on here? It’s all cigar pictures. I admit it.
Dave, it was a pleasure.
Thank you for having me on. I appreciate it. I love it. Whatever I can ever do to help anybody, let me know.
We appreciate your time. Thanks, Dave. Take care.
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About David Garofalo
He’s not a cigar maker with a history of a Cuban family that has been growing and cultivating tobacco for generations. He does not wear a fancy hat, or ride a horse or wear a Guevara shirt like all the cliche ads in the cigar magazines. He is David Garofalo, an Italian American that was born and brought up in inner-city Boston, a man who has spent over 30 years as a cigar retailer and is obsessed with cigars.
Not since Zino Davidoff has there been a cigar named after a cigar retailer and David Garofalo does it now with sincere humility. As he says, “I have spent more than half my life in the cigar business, and I am going to give launching my own cigar a try.”
Garofalo Cigars are handmade in Esteli Nicaragua at the Perdomo factory, using a proprietary blend of Nicaraguan fillers from the Jalapa Valley for its natural sweetness and from Esteli for its strength and character, later aged for four full years. The wrapper is from Ecuador, using seed from USA Connecticut, grown to a beautiful golden color.
The finished cigar has been sitting in aging rooms for a minimum of six full months to marry the blend until it has reached optimum flavor. The flavor is rich and rewarding while elegant and refined.