The Matriarchs of the Cigar Business

When we think of cigar brands and the owners of said brands we tend to think of the patriarchs of the business. Names like Don Carlos Fuente, Nestor Placensia, Rocky Patel, Litto Gomez, Don Pepin Garcia, Jonathon Drew, Zino Davidoff, and Henke Kelner all ring true and rightfully so. They made the modern-day cigar culture.

What we don’t always recognize are the matriarchs of the cigar business. The women that are behind some of the fine brands we enjoy. Some may be just small Boutique brands and others are owners of successful medium size companies that dot the landscape of the cigar world.

I wrote an article a couple of years ago about the Ladies of the Leaf and how they enjoy cigars as much as men. In fact they are the largest growing demographic of cigar smokers in the US and their palates are just as trained as any man. They enjoy cigars for the same reasons men do; social gathering, flavor, and boldness.

Through my travels I have met some of the most amazing women in this industry and they each bring their special touch to the product. Today I would like to introduce you to and highlight some of these incredible women and the brands you may or may not be aware of.

Diany Perez – Yayabo Cigars

Diany Perez

Diany Perez

Diany Perez is a Cuban immigrant to Nicaragua and for years she and her husband Alex Basulto have been farming tobacco on their land in Esteli, Nicaragua. They sold that leaf to many of the big names in the business and in 2015 they launched their first cigar at the New Orleans IPCPR. the name El Yayabo was unknown most at that time but over the years Diany has managed to make the Stogie Press top 25 with some fine introductions including our #1 Boutique cigar of the year in 2016 with their Cirion. Diany has since added Charlie Lopez as the Marketing Manager for the company and they are now showing up in shops across the country.
Diany Perez told me when I first met her:
Not being satisfied with this success, and having the tools at hand necessary, such as high quality raw material as well as the facilities to be able to produce a final product; a cigar that met the highest standards, we decided that our company would embrace the task and expand our dream, so that any cigar that our company would produce, will be met with the acceptance and satisfaction that the international community has bestowed on our products in the past.
With her husband as the master blender and Diany as the agriculturist, Yayabo Cigars is a company that is only growing year over year.

Yadi Gonzalez – Flor de Gonzalez Cigars

Yadi Gonzalez

Yadi Gonzalez

Who doesn’t love Yadi Gonzalez, she has been at the helm of Flor de Gonzalez Cigars for quite some time. As president and the pleasant face of the company she has been guiding the company for over a decade. She immigrated to the United States when she was eight years old and has been around tobacco and cigars her whole life.  Her great-grandfather, Don Irenes Gonzalez, was the first to cultivate tobacco in Cuba.

The family involvement continued with her grandfather Ramiro Gonzalez and then her father Arnaldo Gonzalez. Yadi officially joined her father in 2002 as the manager of finance and over the years learned every aspect of the business. Now as president of the company Yadi has brought international recognition to her family using all the skill she learned over the years.

Maya Selva – Flor De Selva Cigars

Maya Selva

Maya Selva

I had the pleasure of meeting Maya Selva at the 2016 IPCPR and learned what an amazing woman she is. As one of the first female owners of a cigar brand she has been working diligently since 1995 growing her brand internationally with great acclaim. The Flor de Selva brand was launched in France  and now consists of three brands–Flor de Selva, Cumpay, and Villa Zamorano. Her success in the industry can be attributed to the values she has lived with from the start – stringent quality requirements, respect for the land and its communities.  According to the Maya Selva Cigars website:

“Maya Selva set out to capture the unique tastes, flavors and aromas of tobacco leaf grown in her Honduran homeland and in the remote mountains of Nicaragua.  Then she combined the geography of taste with European sophistication in quality, style and presentation.”

You can read and watch the interview I did with Maya here.

Emille Mustafá – Córdoba y Morales Cigars

Paradise Cigarz 7th Annivesary

Z and Em

Emille (Em for short) is a busy woman working with her husband Azarias “Z” Mustafá Córdoba the couple have built a brand from the ground up. As Cuban immigrant and being around tobacco she learned at a very young age from her ancestors the family secrets in the tobacco fields, everything from sowing the seeds to making an unparalleled and superior cigar. Now after more than 100 years she and her husband have created a family dream come true in the United States with Córdoba y Morales Cigars.

Em attributes her success in the business to her best friend and grandmother who inspired and taught her hands-on how to follow the family tradition. More importantly, she cultivated in her the true love for cigars.

Karen Berger – Don Kiki Cigars

Karen Berger

Karen Berger

Karen Berger is referred by many in the industry as the Cigar Queen due to her vast experience in the cigar industry. A native of Estelí, Nicaragua she learned all facets  of the premium cigar industry, from the cultivation, fermentation, selection to the rolling of the cigar. When her husband Don Kiki Berger passed away Karen was left with the task of carrying on the legacy of Don Kiki Cigars.

She did not fail and today her latest blends have received rave reviews and if you visit the company’s cigar super store in Daytona Beach. Florida you may well see her plying her craft when she is not caring for her new baby girl. A little known fact about Karen is that she donated one of her kidneys to her husband when his failed. That love and eternal adoration has kept her growing over the years.

Arielle Ditkowich -La Sirena Cigars

If you have ever had a La Sirena cigar you will understand the passion Arielle has for cigars. Based out of NYC, La Sirena Cigars was established in 2009 and has been wholly owned since by Arielle Ditkowich, aka the Mermaid since 2014. The creation of the brand was the result of a chance meeting between Nestor Miranda and Arielle at a cigar event in New York City she was attending with her father. We all know Nestor loves the world of tobacco and cigars and when he met Arielle they clicked right away. She was a woman who loved the leaf, and had an inert desire to learn as much as she can about the cigar world.

As Arielle knew what the people wanted in cigars the two decided to create a sophisticated cigar for the discerning palate. To do so they would choose the Garcia Family and My Father Cigars to create the blend. After months of blending, and lot’s of smoke and patience, the final blend was mastered.  Arielle decided the name of the new cigar line should La Sirena which translates to “The Mermaid” in Spanish.  That was back in 2008  and when the first La Sierna hit the market it was well received. The story continues as the brand expanded to the Merlion, the Oceano, and also what is known as the “Old School” line of cigars. You can read our review of the Oceano here.

Now fully owned by Arielle, the La Sirena cigar brand thrives in a crowded market.

Yvonne & Yvette Rodriguez – Tre Lindas Cigars

Tres Lindas Cubanas Cigars

Tres Lindas Cubanas Cigars

I met these two sisters a couple of years ago while visiting Miami, FL and learned the sisters like to describe their generation as “one on its own”. As first generation Cuban Americans they had to teach their parents about America. They lived a double life. At home it was all Cuban with rich traditions and culture. They fell in love with Cuba through the family, but outside of the house they were American, blending in at school and society.

Their love of cigars and when they started to enjoy the leaf. Yvette explained their love of the leaf  goes back to when they were 16 years old. Their Grandma – who passed away over 10 years ago smoked cigars in the house. So it was not seen like a taboo to them. It was natural.

The Tre Lindas Cigars company started when Yvette was on vacation in Costa Rica. She was lying out by the pool one day reading a book and smoking a cigar and struck up a conversation with a gentleman who was connected to a factory in Nicaragua. When she got home she talked to her sister and sister’s boyfriend Jamil who both agreed it would be fun to start a cigar line. The rest is history. You can read the interview I did with these Sisters of the Leaf here.

Sandy Cobas – El Titan de Bronze

If you have ever been Calle Ocho in Little Havana, FL you have probably seen the El Titan de Bronze boutique cigar factory. When you think of El Titan de Bronze, you may think of master blender Willy Herrera, who cut his teeth at this iconic cigar house before he moved onto Drew Estate. Yet, it is Sandy Cobas, the woman behind this shop and factory that makes it all happen. As Sandy noted in the 2016 Cigar Journal article:
“I don’t want to work with anyone who’s not sincere about what he wants to do…I like if there’s a story behind it, because I really get into what I’m doing. If you don’t have the passion it’s not going to turn out well. The brand is named after Antonio Maceo one of the three patriots of Cuba alongside José Martí and Máximo Gómez. He was very big and husky, and he fought with a machete in the Spanish-American war. Since he was mulato they called him El Titan de Bronze. I always liked that name. It’s very masculine and that’s our heritage. I might’ve been brought up here, but my roots are Cuban. I talk, eat, dance and feel Cuban, but I love America too.”

The shop was founded in 1995 by Sandy and her husband Carlos and today produces over a 250,000 a year all rolled by Level 9 torcedors. The company now has 6 El Titan de Bronze lines and produces some of the best cigars on the market for many named brands. Next time you are in the Miami area, make a stop over to El Titan de Bronze and say hello to Sandy.

So the next time you enjoy any of these brands think about the women that are behind the brand many who juggle family and managing the business. Like the men in the cigar world these are notable women who work every day to bring the pleasure of the leaf to you.
~Boston Jimmie

3 thoughts on “The Matriarchs of the Cigar Business

  • Beautiful articles and admiration for these female entrepreneur’s. One day I do hope to be written about too in a humble way. I.D. Graibe Cigar Company, LLC as The Hurdler Cigars. Manufactured in Esteli, Nicaragua from the region’s of Karen Berger farm. Established in 2016 and first appearance at IPCPR at that year. Being sold in various stores. A delicious quality premium selected leaves. I myself have a passion for the Leafs. Thank you for your wonderful article. Blessings.

  • We must talk about you and your company for sure. I will be down in Esteli a week from this Friday visiting with Yayabo and Diany Perez. Would love to learn more about your craft. ~ Boston Jimmie

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