Little Havana, FL; a mecca for cigar lovers everywhere is not just a place for the consumer to buy some great hand rolled cigars but a place where even some of the finest cigars on the market are manufactured. It is where Willy Herrera, the master blender from Drew Estate came from and where you can walk into shops and factories steeped in heritage that go back generations. One such factory is the G.R Tabacaleras Co. factory owned and operated by George Rico. It is one of the largest store fronts on Calle Oche in the heart of Little Havana.
During a trip to south Florida and the Florida Keys, back in December, we stopped over for a day in Little Havana and visited George at the Gran Habano store for some friendly cigar chat. As we sat down he handed me one of his cigars and said “the best thing about a cigar is – if you have 2 hours to relax it will take you on a journey”. So we sat for a couple of hours and he took me on his journey, talking about a variety of topics that ranged from his family history to impending regulations and the possibility that we may soon open up to Cuba. Of course, little did we know then, that a few months after that conversation the US would be in the process of reopening an embassy in Cuba and relaxing travel restrictions; but that is topic of discussion for another time.
As we sat and puffed on a Gran Habano, George explained that the family history in tobacco goes back to 1920. It was then his grandfather started to grow dark tobacco. In 1996, George’s father continued the trade. George reminisced about the fond memories as a young child walking the tobacco fields with his father while his grandmother rolled cigars at home. George immigrated to the US in the 1980s and has made quite a name in the cigar business.
With 4 generations of history in tobacco farming and 3 generations of cigar manufacturing, it would be an understatement to say, this is a family that is steeped in the cigar industry. The family owns farms in Nicaragua and Colombia and they have owned and operated a factory in Honduras since 1997 that produces 4 million cigars/year with the Gran Habano line accounting for 2 million of those. They also produce cigars for approximately 5 other brands. With over 2000 accounts, finding a Gran Habano cigar should be fairly easy.
As noted on their website:
The legacy of making cigars at Gran Habano continues to be a family affair. Established in Miami, FL, the Rico family strives for quality in every leaf and cigar in production. Honesty and passion is what compels us to make great cigars married with a sense of originality which has been the signature of our company. We look to the future with optimism and a great sense of appreciation for those who have come to know us and our brand.
George went on to explain that the shop on Calle Oche has been operational since 2010 and the Miami operation produces over 150,000 cigars/year. The core line of Gran Habano cigars is made up of 3 distinct blends which are Gran Habanos’ best selling:
- #1, a mild but rich cigar with a Connecticut shade wrapper
- #3, a medium-bodied cigar in Habano wrapper
- #5, a peppery full bodied cigar in Corojo wrapper.
It doesn’t end there though, as their portfolio of premium cigars is rounded out with 8 additional blends all of which offer the most discerning palate something to enjoy.
- Gran Reserva
- ZULU ZULU – Made in Miami
- GR Specials
- STK American Puro – Made in Miami
- STK Barracuda – Made in Miami
As we finished the first smoke of the day, George handed me the American Puro. This was a delightful smoke from the very start. He explained that it is a blend of 100% American tobaccos from Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Connecticut and is handmade at their GR Tabacaleras Unidas Co. factory in Miami.
We shifted the discussion to the topic of regulation and I asked George what his views were and how he thinks the industry might react should the worst of the regulation be imposed. It is George’s opinion that there may well be a great consolidation in the industry. We have already seen it starting with such big names as Drew Estate, Torano, and Leccia Tobacco. We probably will see the regulations impacting many of the small companies in the industry as they will not have the financial ability to comply with the regulations. Not just manufacturers but also local shops and possibly even online sales.
With regards to Gran Habano, George noted they will stay the course. Even though Gran Habano produces millions of cigars he still considers the Gran Habano line to be boutique in nature as they have a number of blends they manufacture, each rolled with meticulous care, handling, and quality control. He noted that they have made one cigar that sold for $185,000. That’s right, he said, “that would be classified as a boutique cigar for sure, limited production (one).” It was known as the Gran Habano #5 El Gigante and it weighed in at 19 feet long by 3 feet wide, wrapped in 16,000 wrapper leaves and weighed approximately 1,600 pounds. It even came in with its own 900-pound wooden carrying case. Yep, George loves his cigars.
George spent more time that I would have expected from such a busy man, but he loves what he does. Before calling it a day, he gave a us a short tour of the shop. But before we parted, I asked him what it is like to be successful in this business. He looked over at me and explained, somewhat jokingly, but with a touch of seriousness;
If you want to make a small fortune – start with a big one
I guess that sums it up. You work hard, you put everything you got into it – and then some, and you too may live the American dream.