One of the many reasons I love the cigar industry so much, besides the sheer pleasure of the many cigars I enjoy, is how the industry gives back to the community it serves. We see the evidence of this in children’s charities, Cigars for Warriors, and the supporting of families and neighbors of the hard working men and woman that craft our favorite cigars all over.
Today I would like to highlight an impromptu event that occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, a massive storm which utterly devastated the Florida panhandle this past October.
A Moving Moment during Hurricane Relief
This story was told to me by Heather Callahan, who owns an independent cigar brokerage (Team Callahan Cigars) here in Florida and carries five cigar brands under her banner. One of those brands is Mombacho Cigars co-owned by the company’s President and Master Blender, Claudio Sgroi.
Heather contacted me after the hurricane and explained that her husband John, who is a National Guard reservist was being deployed to the Florida panhandle as part of the 164th Air Defense Artillery Brigade mission to help in the recovery efforts. Prior to the hurricane taking its deadly path, Heather planned to visit a number of shops in the panhandle with Claudio, but due to the devastation they contacted the shops to suggest postponing the events. The shops notified her that they are still operational and said let’s do it! Claudio & Heather drove up to the panhandle of Florida and they held their first event, after which, her husband John, who was stationed at the National Guard Operation Center, called her and suggested they come visit.
Heather was of course excited to see her husband, but Claudio, who served in the Italian Military, was even more excited to see and experience a US Military Operation and also to see how FEMA operates. Of course John got permission from the Brigade Commander, Lt. Col. Sean T. Boyette to let them on site and also got agreement to have a mini herf for the First Responders including Police, Firefighters, Military, Canine Units, and Contractors. Before the event, John posted signs throughout the center announcing the herf.
When Heather and Claudio arrived, they toured the center, which was the 911 hub for the operation, lined with desks, phones, and televisions keeping everyone up to date as they solved the most difficult recovery problems. Claudio was deeply moved by what he saw and did, what the “best in the industry” do – he gave back.
Over 50 First Responders came out to greet them as they took a short break from their intense 24 hour days, over the past 3 weeks. Claudio handed out Liga Maestros and Tierra Volcan cigars to all those he met. Such an impromptu event was a first for the cigar industry and it was met with gracious thanks from all involved.
When I spoke to John at a local cigar shop here in Melbourne, FL this month, he said;
“Everyone was thrilled with Mombacho coming out to the recovery and holding a cigar event – including Commander Boyette!”
The event lasted about 2 hours, but those two hours will be remembered forever as those that had partaken, took a little break from the stress to relax with a fine cigar while sharing stories of the recovery efforts with Heather and Claudio. It was truly a moving experience for all.
There were no complaints during the moment, as a full spectrum of cigar smokers joined in, from beginners to the most experienced aficionados. Those that knew a good cigar complimented Claudio on his craft and they all thanked him for taking time out of his busy schedule to spend time with them. Claudio was very informative of the Mombacho brand and the attendees were deeply engaged in his story and brand.
In the end, the event was a great success. In a world where we give so many cigars to overseas military personnel it was a welcome gesture that a small cigar brand would come visit and hand out cigars to a state-side operation. Claudio was appreciative for the invite, especially as he realized how much was going on and that he had an opportunity to participate in his own special way.
About the 164th Air Defense Artillery Brigade
Established in 1987, the 164th Air Defense Artillery Brigade is 2,500 strong under the leadership of Commander Lt. Col. Sean T. Boyette and Command Sgt. Maj. Theodore Morris.
The 164th Air Defense Artillery (ADA) Brigade consists of a headquarters in Orlando; 1st Battalion, 265th ADA Regiment in Palm Coast; 3rd Battalion, 265th ADA Regiment in Sarasota; and 3rd Battalion, 116th Field Artillery (FA) Regiment in Plant City.
The 164th ADA is focused on support and training of civil authorities in preparation for state active duty missions. Prior to Hurricane Michael, the 164th ADA provided essential support when Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc on the state of Florida. Lessons learned from the Hurricane Matthew were put into practice during Irma, where the quick response of Soldiers led to efficient shelter and humanitarian missions across the state.
You can learn more about the 164th ADA from their Facebook Page – www.facebook.com/164thADABDE
About Mombacho Cigars
While backpacking through Central America in 2005, Cameron Heaps, co-owner of Steam Whistle Brewing, discovered a family cigar factory next door to the school where he was taking Spanish lessons.
He and backpacking partner Markus Raty made regular visits to the factory in Granada, Nicaragua, during their stay and the owner regaled them with stories about the country’s history, culture and tobacco.
“We just fell in love with the country and the spirit of the people. We thought, ‘Man, we have to share Nicaragua with the world.’ ”
In 2006, the family agreed to let Heaps and Raty use its recipe. They opened their own factory in 2010 in Granada and Mombacho Cigars was born. Its name was taken from a prominent volcano overlooking the 500-year-old colonial city.
About Team Callahan Cigars
Team Callahan Cigars is owned and operated by Heather Callahan a 5 year veteran of the cigar industry. After working as a cigar representative, she made the leap this year to form her own Cigar Brokerage (Team Callahan Cigars) and took on 5 brands she personally enjoyed and knew she could expand the market for in Florida. Those brands include; Balmoral, Mombacho, Hiram & Solomon, Line of Duty, and Rolling Thunder. Always on the go, you find Heather and sometimes her husband John in shops throughout Florida. Heather is a US Army Veteran and was a Financial Advisor prior to getting into the cigar business.
About Hurricane Michael (from Wikipedia)
Michael made landfall as a high-end Category 4 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph (250 km/h), at 12:15 CDT (17:15 UTC) on October 10, in Mexico Beach, Florida, and near Tyndall Air Force Base. The base sustained devastating wind damage after being directly impacted by the hurricane’s violent eyewall. Every structure on the base sustained damage, and some were completely shredded by the intense winds. Vehicles were tossed through parking lots and destroyed, large hangars were severely damaged. Large forests in the area were almost entirely flattened to the ground, while trees that remained standing on and around the base were completely stripped and denuded. Several F-22 fighters were also damaged, with a replacement value of about $6 billion if repair is not possible.
In Mexico Beach, catastrophic and widespread destruction occurred as many homes were flattened or completely swept away by a 14 ft (4.3 m) storm surge and high-end Category 4 winds. The remnants of many homes were scattered across U.S. Route 98, which had large sections of pavement washed away. Entire neighborhoods in Mexico Beach were reduced to nothing but bare foundation slabs, and numerous vehicles, businesses, apartment buildings, and hotels throughout the community were destroyed or severely damaged. Countless trees in the area were snapped and denuded, including a few that sustained some debarking.
The National Guard rescued about 20 people, while it was estimated that as many as 285 residents of the small town may have stayed. Severe damage from storm surge and intense winds also occurred at St. George Island, in Port St. Joe, and in Apalachicola, where a storm surge of 8.50 ft (2.59 m) was recorded. Downtown Port St. Joe sustained extensive damage, and the storm surge left boats and other debris deposited in yards, streets, and parking lots in town. Michael’s intense eyewall caused major structural damage as far inland as Marianna, where buildings in the downtown area were severely damaged, leaving streets covered in bricks, lumber, and structural debris from collapsed roofs and walls. Homes and churches in town were heavily damaged, and countless trees and power lines were downed.
The hurricane also dropped torrential rainfall along its path, reaching 5.05 in (128 mm) near Scotts Ferry. Debris on Interstate 10 resulted in the roadway being closed between Lake Seminole and Tallahassee, a distance of about 80 mi (130 km). In Tallahassee, many trees fell across the city and approximately 110,000 businesses and homes were left without electricity, while a sewer system failed. In Chattahoochee, the Florida State Hospital – the oldest and largest psychiatric hospital in the state – became isolated, forcing aid to be dropped by helicopter.
The western half of Michael’s eyewall passed directly over Panama City, and violent Category 4 winds caused incredible damage throughout the city and its suburbs. Numerous businesses including restaurants, gas stations, shopping centers, office buildings, retail stores, and hotels sustained major structural damage or were destroyed, including several structures that were completely leveled to the ground.
In residential areas, homes and apartment buildings lost their roofs and exterior walls, and many trees were toppled or snapped or completely defoliated. Vehicles were flipped and overturned, Four deaths occurred in Gadsden County, and another three deaths occurred in Marianna, Jackson County. A body was discovered by rescue crews in Mexico Beach on October 12.
By October 28, a total of 35 people were officially confirmed to have been killed by the hurricane in Florida, with hundreds still unaccounted for. Approximately 3 million acres of timber was damaged or destroyed statewide, costing an estimated $1.3 billion. Total agricultural loss statewide were about $1.5 billion and insurance loss were at $2.6 billion.