Tell us a little bit about yourself
I am originally from NYC I lived in the Bronx in my Childhood and Queens in my older years I also spent quite a lot of time in Eastern NC in my teen age years. I can say my roots are from North Carolina since I spent most of my summers there with my grandmother, I also have family in Dominican republic which is where the connection of cigars come from. There are some great advantages of growing up in different parts of the US, and it helps when dealing with people. I have 3 lovely kids that I am very proud and I hope they take over the business one day. I am a die hard Tarheel Fan, I am an avid Golfer I could play everyday if I had the time. I also love to travel stay physically fit, but my main purpose or function in my life is family I love them to death and would do anything for them.
I can say other than my kids; my greatest achievement was my 30-year Military service that ended 1 Feb 2017. I can say as a kid I always knew I would join the military, one because of my family’s deep legacy in the military. If you add up all time that my grandfathers, father, uncles and other relatives have served, it would be over 400 years of service. During my time of service, I experienced three combat tours. I must say, I held some great positions that took me pretty much around the world, so have prepared me for almost any situation. I spent my last 15 years in various lead positions within the financial arena. My supervisory experience during those years made it easy to transition into entrepreneurship. I am a lets get it done sort of guy, I can only listen to chatter but for so long, if I would wait for all of the promises and the I know someone, I would be left in the dust. So, I guess you can say I have made my career dreams come true. I have always wanted to own my own business so when the opportunity came I could not turn it down great things happen by accident and some times it is totally outside of your comfort zone.
What made you decide to start Carolina Blue Cigars?
My venture started with a simple question in Santiago, Dominican Republic in 2016 when a relative approached me and asked, “How many people do you knew who smoke cigars on the golf course.” I was actually playing in a tournament at that time. So, I gave him an answer and took some sample cigars back to the states. We all know that at least 2 to 3 people per foursome smokes cigars so that was my first area to market my cigars. However, the product was not that great. I had to make it clear that if I was going to get in this business, I wanted only the good stuff because I believe that quality is everything when it comes to cigars.
In an effort to ensure quality, I was introduced to Francisco De La Cruz, who is by far one of the best blenders in Tamboril. I admired his way of doing things because he was not about quantity but quality. He had a small factory and cared very deeply for his product. Mr. De La Cruz’s tobacco blending background was very extensive. He had experience with several companies such as Romeo & Julieta, La Flor Dominicana, and Davidoff when they were in their early stages of growth. He has been in the game for over 30 years and is very well respected. The craftsmanship was second to none which resulted in the production of great cigars. The one thing that sealed the deal was, other larger companies were coming over to get our cigars to smoke while they worked, that said a lot and carried a lot of weight. I call him the MASTER SENSEI of Cigars blenders since most of the blenders in that area at some point worked for him.
What was your very first cigar you ever smoked?
My very first cigar was the day before I left for the military in May of 1986. My dad smoked cigars, as well as pipes. However, I was never a smoker of any sort. Entering the military was a great achievement for me, so I bought two cigars, one for the way into basic training, and one for the way out. They were a random supermarket brand I can assure you. So random in fact, I cannot remember the name.
I smoked one that night on the hotel balcony before I left for basic I can still remember that night like it was yesterday. Smoking and thinking about what my future would be in the military very calm spring night. Oddly enough, I wanted another one the next day, I don’t think I had a good one I am sure it was full of crap lol. I did not know why at the time but now I do. Incidentally, I never smoked the second one for the way out of the military I through it in a box. I found it in a shoebox a few years ago while cleaning out a trunk, which was full of memories.
I can say that the next time I smoked was during my first combat tour. I had a detachment spread out in three countries, and it was time to celebrate a very long deployment so, we smoked one on our last day in the country. That is probably when I started smoking more cigars. It is funny now that I know more about the business. I realize we were smoking “knock off” Cubans while sitting in Kuwait waiting for our ride home.
How long has Carolina Blue been in business?
I started Carolina Blue Cigars in April 2016, I spent a year pushing samples and testing the market to see if I had a product that was good enough to put in the hands of customers. It was a long process very rewarding once a blend was created, there were plenty of nights that I wanted to give up every so often I wake up, and look around and say this is why I grind it out everyday. If it were so easy as some people think everyone would have a cigar. I can say finding a blend, is harder than putting the product in shops and lounges.
Tell us about Carolina Blue Cigars.
Carolina Blue Cigars is a premium cigar company that produces a product with transition, consistency, and excellent flavor. We are always seeking ways to improve our blends with the finest tobacco that are aged and cured to the strictest specifications of our Master Blender. Our cigars are made in small quantities, with specificity, and are hand crafted for the cigar enthusiast that is seeking more in a cigar. Carolina Blue Cigars was created to be the perfect compliment to all of life’s moments.
We envision people around the world enjoying one of our cigars under a Carolina Blue Sky. Our goal is creating an amazing cigar experience for all levels of cigar enthusiasts, while maintaining exemplary customer service. Pride, care and strict attention to detail goes into each cigar we make. Our company’s foundation is deeply rooted in the legacy of our families’ subsistence tobacco farming in the community of N. Harlowe, NC. Those indelible childhood and teenage experiences in Eastern NC, to our over 50 years combined military service, we have now matured and have incorporated that same pride & tradition in the tobacco fields of the Dominican Republic.
We are not your average cigar company that produces 50,000 cigars a week, we care about the product we produce and every stick is inspected for quality and appearance, for that reason we only produce up to 2000 sticks a week or less. We believe deeply that our cigars will change the market from a taste standpoint, so our main responsibility is to “over deliver” the Carolina Blue Cigar Experience.
What makes Carolina Blue Cigars unique?
That is a great question. One that is on my mind all the time. How can I stand out from other companies? What can we do to have others say, “I want a Carolina Blue Cigar”.
I still don’t have all of the answers for that. The one thing I can say about our product is we inspect every single cigar that is Hand Rolled at our factory something that I was very impressed with from the start. That care in our product goes into the quality customer service that we provide along with education on cigars, over delivering on a sale and/or giving away marketing items such as hats, flasks, lighters, cutters or t-shirts at our events.
We want to give you that personal touch with our team members in the community. We do our best to make you feel like you are the only customer, and you have all of our attention. Customer service is very important to me. We do listen to our customers. Furthermore, we want our customers to know that their satisfaction comes first. For instance, I was out in the community one day and a customer told me he bought a cigar from one of the shops and it was dry. He explained that he was familiar with our quality because he has smoked a few before. I just pulled one out of my pocket and gave it to him. I really wanted to smoke it myself, lol. Customers first as they say.
We want to have the Chick-Fil-A business model, so to speak. We are not in every shop but you will want to drive from miles away to get one. From a marketing standpoint, I am all about the product. You will hardly ever see me our team all over social media. The industry is about the cigars, and the public needs to see that as much as possible in order for our company to thrive. We must produce an outstanding product each and every time no matter if you like it or not.
Which are your top selling vitolas/brands?
It is funny that you ask that question, I have to answer that by region, in the northeast my Maduro Cigar sells the best. But over all the Habano is running neck and neck, I can say that is the closest to Cuban style with taste, strength, aroma and burn. I also tell people not to sleep on our Connecticut cigar it isn’t your typical Connecticut cigar I will leave it at that.
What do you see happening in the future for Carolina Blue? Any exciting events or updates in the works?
As far as news I guess I can spill the beans a little with you lol. As you know I spent about 3 weeks at the factory in Tamboril, that trip was very enlightening and I will do that more often nothing like being on ground. We are in the process of introducing 3 new cigars a new 60 gauge and 2 smaller ring Petite corona style cigars. While on ground there are things that you find out or have a better understanding about when you get a chance to talk to other owners and factories. So to make a long story short our new blends will probably not be ready until late summer. We will of course keep the classic line but we will drop 2 of the 60 gauge cigars that did not do to well last year.
The events that we have planned are still being worked out for up coming shops we do have an event planned in Houston TX in May, we are also in the planning stages for an event in NYC sometime this summer, I want to bring Francisco to that event since that is our old stomping grounds. Events are something that I do not mind doing as it helps introduce the cigars to shops and lounges and we can get immediate feedback from customers.
As for the future, Carolina Blue Cigars will be the number one boutique cigar within two years. This goal sparks my motivation to stay focused and work hard. It has been and will continue to be a grind, really hard work. But, my team can do it. We don’t have a choice because we are working with legacy here. We have a strong partnership on both sides of the water, with the right amount of expertise, in which each person is totally committed and in this business for the long haul. As for me, I sleep, eat, and think nothing but Carolina Blue Cigars. I am always thinking about how to make our company better. We will not be just another “fly by night” cigar company, but a cut above the rest.
How many states are your cigars currently sold in?
Right now we are in 8 states, and working on coming to 3 others we are not far from our goal of 20 states by the end of the year.
What are you most excited about with SmoothDrawCigars.com selling Carolina Blue Cigars?
First of all I have to thank our friend Emily (on Instagram @Dalizimo) for making the connection, I am excited because I know we both have a passion about boutique cigars, the little guy. We both believe in educating the consumer on what they are smoking, as well as chipping away in turning the industry in the direction of smaller companies. Quality over quantity.