The Journey

A tale of a journey does not start without a cigar and a single malt. And I have plenty of both. This journey has been well over ten years in the making, traveling to Central American tobacco fields, putting my boots in the very fields where the tobacco is being grown and harvested, visiting with the skilled growers and manufacturers, discussing different blends, listening to the experts and smoking countless cigars.

My journey must have a tobacco partner and my compass lead me to Casa Fernandez (Tropical Tobacco). To their tobacco fields in Nicaragua and the knowledge, talent and passion with which they command as experts and professionals of their trade. Entrada turned from a dream to reality.

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I remember to this day the experience of walking into an authentic tobacconist, David’s Briar Shoppe in the Westroads Mall, Omaha, Nebraska. The smoke from a pipe to this day triggers many fond memories as a child. It was a traditional stop for my grandfather and father when going to the mall. A shoppe heavily focused on briar pipes, pipe tobacco and cigars were a very small portion of their business. I can remember the anticipation of walking into the store and smelling the pipe tobacco smoke, looking at the pipes, accessories and the many pipe tobaccos. The wafting smoke would carry throughout the mall and it’s emanating infectious smell would draw men to their location. Remember this is 1975 and a man could smoke his pipe in the store located inside a shopping mall. How times have changed.

It’s 1981, I am a freshman in college and just having pledged Sigma Alpha Epsilon, a celebration is on my mind. I was attending Simpson College not far from Des Moines, Iowa and I remember that in the Merle Hay Mall an old familiar friend existed, David’s Briar Shoppe. Yes, the same family as previously mentioned. I wasn’t my grandfather or father so, a pipe was not on the menu. A cigar was fitting for this special occasion and not a Swisher Sweet or a Backwoods.

This was the big time and a premium cigar was clearly the choice.  I had never experienced a premium cigar I had only a vague idea what I was doing, let alone looking for.  But I was determined to find a cigar that fit my need. The cigar humidor was wall mounted and not very big. The selection was not vast but I did recognize some brands from my earlier visits in Omaha, Macanudo, Romeo & Julieta, Punch, Hoyo de Monterrey, Monte Cristo to name the most obvious.

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With great anticipation I selected a Macanudo Portofino in the white tube. It was incredible, I remember to this day what it felt like to open the cap on the metal tube, take out this fine looking handmade cigar, slide it under my nose, smelling the essence of a cigar. Then rolling it between my fingers, clipped the cap, carefully lit the cigar and with a relaxed fit inhaling satisfaction or any of the many other personal feelings and beliefs we have when embracing this symbol of mankind’s accomplishment. I felt like a king as I held that cigar knowing that I was on my way.

Through the college years and shortly thereafter I was smoking the best cigars I could get my hands on. Frequenting as many tobacconist I could find with my limited travel.  These early years and the moments I had smoking cigars have been the foundation of my cigar palate.  Cigars have always been a part of the most significant moments in my life and probably yours as well; a new job, birthdays, graduations, the birth of a child, weddings, etc. In 1995, while traveling for my job, I began to notice the overall vibe in the shops I visited. Watching the employees, the owners, and clientele enjoy themselves inspired me, so I started to develop my dream.

The corporate life was very good, but the time for any personal ventures was slim. After a year and half of orchestrating my exit from the corporate world, researching the industry, understanding pricing, and all the many other items required to open a retail store I was ready to launch my new venture. Dundee Cigars and Tobacco opened in an old shoe repair shop next to Pestals Barber Shop in the Dundee neighborhood of Omaha, Nebraska. The store opened in the height of the cigar renaissance of 1997 and cigar product was extremely hard to come by. I managed and with perseverance the store was a success. This prompted growth which lead to the acquisition of S.G. Roi Tobacconist located in the Old Market in the summer of 1998. After a short while I closed the Dundee store and sold my interests. It was a great experience, but a new and much larger adventure lay ahead.

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In 2003, I took my first trip to Nicaragua and had the opportunity to meet the men of Casa Fernandez (Tropical Tobacco) that changed my appreciation of cigars forever. This was the first step in making a name for myself in this small, but very close knit industry. During my trip, I visited all aspects of the operation from seed to cigar. At this time I did not have the slightest idea when or how to brand my own cigar. The big names were the only ones doing any kind of manufacturing and branding.

Casa Fernandez was beginning a program for retailers and over the years, cigar companies have pushed retailers to have cigars made and labeled with a store brand.  It sounded great, but I was not sure where to begin and frankly, I was skeptical. I had witnessed a handful of upstarts trying to get a brand going, but not with much success. Despite all of this, I still had that desire to create my own cigar.  My time over the past ten years have been spent watching and listening to all those that came before me, understand the blending process, what to look for in peoples taste, and more importantly what tobacco company to stake my blending future with.

My cigar blending journey began in February 2013 discussing multiple cigar blending options, researching companies, and I could not find a better suited match than Casa Fernandez. Now I needed a blending partner who could match my experience. That person is my friend and general manager of S.G. Roi Tobacconist, Rusty McAulay. He fits like a glove. It’s  almost as if he was in a box of cigars shipped specifically for me. He has an excellent palate, discernable taste, and definitely knows his way around a humidor. Our vision of blending a cigar was certain but the blend we would settle on was quite unclear. We were very methodical in making our tasting, sampling, construction and blending notes.  Just remember you can sample all you want but until you are in the moment and see the facilities of your manufacturer, you can never be certain where to begin.

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After a quick tour of the Casa Fernandez facilities, Rusty and I sat at a table where in front of us laid many cigars. We were about ready to get down to business. Arsenio Ramos master blender was sitting at the end of the table puffing on a cigar. He was examining and tasting the cigar like famous musicians Tito Puente and Machito as they mastered their Afro-Cuban Jazz and Salsa masterpieces. I have no doubt that it was a cigar he crafted just minutes before as he anticipated our arrival.

With the skilled stewardship of Arsenio, we began the quest. It wasn’t long before we were neck deep in cigar smoke and ash trays filled with samples. Cut one, light it, inhale, and exhale through the nose. We must have done this a thousand times. This was the mantra of our cigar sampling marathon and it was rough. After smoking about two dozen cigars while enjoying Cuban coffee, I could not think of anything better than this. I looked up at the clock and almost the entire day had passed. Our host, Eduardo Fernandez, could not have been more hospitable and gracious with his and Arsenio’s time to sit and discuss tobacco and the very essence of the good tobacco man. We left that cigar tasting marathon with our blend selected and ready for the next day.

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The next day the Cuban coffee was waiting in front of my chair. Sitting in front of us were cigars rolled that morning with the proper blend of tobaccos but this time with a new wrinkle. How about we change the wrapper? And we did.  We were ready to begin a new but this time the cigars were more refined with our selected wrapper and blend. Cut one, light it, inhale, and exhale through the nose the mantra began. I looked over at Rusty and I could tell he was liking what he was smoking. We wondered, “what the hell are we going to call this cigar?” I had my visions and we had our notes but none of it seemed appropriate for the moment. I said to myself, we will finish this cigar and smoke a few more and when we are done with this, we’ll have the name.

Eureka we have our crafted blend and it sparked creativity. We were in the Casa Fernandez man cave with all the cigars and Cuban coffee a man could want all the while reaching for inspiration and playing the word game. We brainstormed what seemed like countless words – rhyming words, looking at synonyms, places, people, etc. Finally, Rusty said opening or beginning. We looked up the Spanish translation and Entrada was born. It was perfect.  This is the beginning to something very special and the entrance into our journey as a brand. The name does not make the cigar because taste always wins, but in this industry where there are many family owned companies, Entrada becomes a new extension of my family and it is the very blend you will enjoy in your own journey.

This is, Entrada, by Casa de Entrada.

 

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