It has been over a year since Las Vegas has hosted a trade show, and what better way to re-open the city than with two adult industries – Premium Cigars and Hemp derived products. That is what the Tobacco Plus Expo (TPE) is all about. Under the banner of Tobacco Media Group (TMG) owned by Kretek International, Tobacco Plus Expo (TPE) is the largest B2B tobacco trade show highlighting the full-spectrum of tobacco, vapor, alternatives and general merchandise products available on the ever-evolving market.
Now most of you that are reading this are probably premium cigar smokers and you may not be familiar with the other industry segments that are highlighted at TPE. I just want to note, collectively, these industries opened up Vegas successfully. It was the first trade show since the pandemic. It was embraced by hospitality workers from bus, taxi, and Uber drives to bartenders, wait staff, and casino workers. They knew something was happening as the city started to buzz with people, happy to be back in Vegas, The city was one of, if not the worst, city to be impacted by the pandemic.
My first experience of this happiness was when I stepped off the shuttle bus in the parking lot of the Las Vegas Convention Center. As I stepped down onto the pavement, a convention worker, whose job was to direct us to the entrance, thanked each and every person that exited the bus, for bringing back Las Vegas, thanking us for bringing back his job so he can care for his family. That touched me deeply. It was then I realized, we were the first convention to be held in the city since this whole crap shoot started in early 2020.
We often wonder how Premium Cigars and alternative products like CBD, Vape, Glass and other adult recreation products like Delta 8 -THC can co-mingle on the trade show floor. Year after year, TPE managed to make it happen and TPE 2021 was no exception. These two industries, joined together under the banner of TPE, definitely re-opened Las Vegas in the middle of May 2021.
Of course, we still had to deal with masking rules, and the mask police (Safety Ambassadors). You could smoke cigars in a brand owners booth but if you stepped an inch outside of the booth dimension, you might be called out and warned that you must wear the mask. It was really just warnings, and I know of nobody that got evicted. so we did our best to comply and all had a good time.
Pre-Show Set Up – TABAC Trading Company
This year I had the unique opportunity to support one of my sponsors – TABAC Trading Company – to document what it takes for a small premium cigar brand to set up a booth as a first time attendee at the show. The trials and tribulations that I shared with owner, Patrick Potter, from getting prepared for the show days before, to packing vehicles and driving to Vegas was an experience second to none. Like any project, things can go awry, but in the end, those that attend the show see the final product, a beautiful booth showcasing the hard work of the brand owner.
I will be writing an article soon that documents those trials and tribulations that I personally witnessed and helped Patrick navigate. As for now, please watch the following video that shows the booth setup that took about 5 hours. (it is sped up in the video) The end of the video includes a cigar rolling session with Guillermo Pena owner of La Perla Tabacalera in Esteli, Nicaragua who hand crafts Patrick’s cigars.
Patrick’s big push at TPE was around his new Milk and Honey cigar that comes in 3 different blends with each expressed in a robusto vitola. I smoked all three blends while at the show and prior to the show, while we drove to Vegas. I can say I look forward to reviewing these. As Patrick notes on every box of Milk and Honey – “Every Morning Should Be This Amazing”.
Day 1 – Stogie Press Awards
One of the nice things about TPE, is that members of the media are allowed to enter the show 1 hour earlier than retailers. This gives us a chance to mingle before the crowd hits the floor. I use this privilege to re-acquaint myself with some brand owners I have not seen in the past year but also on the first day I present the Stogie Press Cigar of the Year award to the recipient. This is the first year we had multiple awards – big, medium, and small company. The medium size company, Foundation Cigars, was not in attendance but the small (Stallone Cigars) and large (Rocky Patel Premium Cigars) companies were.
My first stop was to visit Rocky Patel, who won the large company and overall cigar of the year for Stogie press in 2020 with their Grand Reserve Robusto. I presented a beautiful trophy to Nimish Patel who was the company’s representative in the booth. Congratulations to Rocky Patel and the the whole Rocky Patel Premium Cigars family.
My second stop was to Stallone Nicaragua Cigars owned by Tony Barrios who was graced with the honor of #1 Small Company cigar of the year in 2020 with their 96 rated Alazon Habano. For a small company they went all out with their booth and based on visits throughout the three days, they were solidly busy. The company was showcasing a new addition to the Cowboy Series – The Pony – a 4.5 x 50 Short Gordo that sports a Ecuadorian Sumatra Wrappers over a Nicaraguan Binder and Nicaraguan & Connecticut Broadleaf Fillers.
The Rest Of Day One – Old Friends and New
Like I mentioned, the best part of a cigar trade show is meeting old friends and brand owners along with greeting and getting to know new brand owners or first time show exhibitors. Last year, TPE had three cigar pavilions, which were are large booths that hosted about 8 small kiosks of brands, This year there were only two, but there were more small brands that had their own booths too. Brands came to do business, that is for sure. One of the new brands featured at the show was a company called El Septimo – Geneva.
El Septimo Cigars – Best Booth
In my personal opinion, El Septimo Cigars had the best booth at TPE. This company was new to the show and came prepared to do business. From the moment you walked in the booth, surrounded with lavish displays of cigars and magnificent branded accessories, your eyes widened and just wanted to know what this brand was all about. Based out of California, El Septimo Cigars is a company that was founded in 2005 and was subsequently acquired in 2019 by real estate mogul Zaya Younan who has revamped and expanded the line. Earlier this year, the company hired industry veteran Roy MacLaren as Executive Vice President, who you may know from Gurkha, Villiger Cigars North America, Avanti Cigar Co., Crux and Bahama Mamas.
The booth was spectacular and they had a full collection of cigars that were all described as being Costa Rican puros. Their marketing was spot on and if you were lucky enough, you got a VIP invite to their Thursday night after-party at the Mandalay Bay Hotel. I was a lucky one, and I have to say the food was awesome, the drinks were top shelf and all attendees received a special party bag with branded swag and a special edition “Seven” collection of cigars. The name El Septimo means “seven” and represents the Lords seventh day of rest, a moment that all cigar enthusiasts understand after a long day of work.
Stogie Press Sponsors In The House
Vintage Rock-A-Feller Cigar Group
My next stop was to one of my loyal sponsors, Rock-A-Feller Cigars. They, like last year, opted to showcase their craft in one of the two cigar pavilions. The unique aspect of what owner Kevin Schweitzer chose to do this year, was to have a magician on board throughout the show to entertain visitors to his kiosk. It certainly paid off. The area was busy as the company also showcased the next rendition of their highly acclaimed Art of Magic cigar. This time with a Cameroon wrapper.
Another Stogie Press sponsor, Tarazona Cigars, had a small display in the far end of the cigar floor. The area was packed with interest, especially since owner, Eddie Tarazona, also sponsored the All Industry Party at Drai’s Beach Club & Night Club on the evening of day 1.
The photos below are a small glimpse into the 3 hour long party that featured an open bar, delicious food, a DJ. dancing, and even a pool if you were daring to get into it. The line was long to get in, but once there, I heard zero complaints. This is what the industry is all about! As Eddie Tarazona says, Do It With Passion!!
Dominican Big Leaguer Cigars
I got to see my good friend Francisco Almonte, owner of Dominican Big Leaguer (DBL) Cigars, who is also a sponsor of Stogie Press. The DBL team was not showing anything new at the show, but did have a complete display of their product line. Francisco noted that the hottest sample at the show for DBL was the acclaimed Amarillo blend. Francisco reiterated that 2022 will be the year for the grand opening of his new factory in the Dominican Republic with special invites to select retailers to attend a tour. I have been on one of these tours in the past and fully anticipate the 2022 tour to be even more spectacular.
El Artista Cigars
A long time Stogie Press sponsor, El Artista was located in one of the cigar Pavilions. The company was showcasing their full line of cigar with emphasis on the new Buffalo TEN Natural and re-blended Puro Ambar. They also highlighted their Fugly Cheroot and Big Papi series.
Gran Habano Cigars
I got plenty of time to sit and chat with George Rico, owner of Gran Habano Cigars. George and I go way back to the start of Stogie Press and though he had no new products to show he did have his classic line of cigars on display. The booth was getting a decent amount of traffic and interest.
Hiram & Solomon Cigars
Hiram & Solomon had a simple booth showcasing their best selling cigars along with their newest additions, the Curamus and their exclusive “Live 2 Serve” charity cigar for Cigars For Warriors which was also presented at the CFW booth.
A number of years ago, I had the pleasure of stepping into a small cigar shop in NYC called Martinez Cigars. It was a classic old cigar shop, with a cigar roller in the front. I picked up their Flat Iron cigar and reviewed it on Stogie Press. That was back in 2016. Seeing them at the show was a testament to where TPE has been going and growing.
At this years show they were featuring their latest offering, the Patrimonio – a tribute to the owners father. They come in two blends, a San Andres and a Brazilian Arapiraca. Both have Nicaragua binders and Nicaraguan and Cubanito fillers.
They also were showcasing a Luxury Cigar Club exclusive – the HANGRY – which is hand rolled in NYC and features a 5 Year Aged Mexican San Andres wrapper with a 2016 Nicaraguan Jalapa binder and Nicaraguan Seco & Viso Esteli 2018 fillers.
All Saints Cigars
I got meet Micky Pegg – owner of All Saints Cigars for the first time since being a guest on Taking It To The Nub. Micky was set up in one of the cigar pavilions and was showcasing his latest extension to his line – the Saint Francis in addition to his acclaimed Dedicacion cigar. The St. Francis is being produced at the Rocky Patel TAVICUSA factory in Estelí, Nicaragua and boasts an Ecuadorian oscuro wrapper that cloaks Nicaraguan binder and fillers.
Altidas with Rafael Nodal
Veteran cigar man Rafael Nodal was manning the Altidas booth and they put on a beautiful presentation with the smaller than normal square footage they have at the PCA. Each brand was individually displayed in eye catching presentation and they did not seem to have any problem getting retailers to their booth. It was good to catch up with Rafael and get in a brief conversation between retailer visits.
Bahama Mama Cigars
If you got time to sit and chat at an cigar trade show, then a visit with Brad Berko from Bahama Mama cigars is the place to be. Brad is great story teller and will catch your ear for a long time if you let him. He came to do business and seemed to be doing well at this years TPE. Brad was showcasing the company’s La Mirada cigars and the company’s Bahama Mama flavored line.
Black Star Line Cigars
If you have not tried this small brand based our the Chicagoland area, you are missing out on a fine smoking experience. This is a first time for Black Star Line at the show and they had a fan base for sure at their booth. You can check out the review of their 92 Rated El Milagro Mexican San Andres here.
What would a Cigar Trade Show be with out Blanco Cigars and owner David Blanco. The company has been present at multiple TPE trade shows and is a regular at the PCA trade each year. David had a small booth but it was stocked with his full portfolio of cigars and he was showcasing his latest creation – the Prince Hall which comes in Habano Rosado and Habano Maduro blends.
As I noted earlier, one of the best parts of attending a cigar trade show like TPE, is the opportunity to re-acquaint with many old friend in the industry. Luis Cuevas and his family fit that category precisely, as I can say I have broken bread with him in the Dominican Republic and have been friends ever since. The company has been producing cigars for generations for numerous brands, but over the past few years they have been making their own brand which by the constant crowd at his booth has been well accepted. Casa Cuevas was set up in the one of the cigar pavilions.
Casa Nicaragua Tobacco Group
Here is a new company I came across- Casa Nicaragua Cigar Group. This is a company that is located in the city of Estelí, Nicaragua, the capital of Tobacco. They are a factory dedicated to developing and producing artisan cigars, made entirely by hand. This was their first show and they had a nicely laid out booth showcasing the three blends in the Company’s portfolio. I passed by a few times while walking the floor and their was quite a bit of intertest from the attendees.
EPIC and Nat Cicco
Another long time friend of mine is Dean Parsons, who I had the pleasure of meeting years ago at one of the IPCPR Trade Shows. We have stayed in touch over those years, and it is always fun to sit and smoke a cigar with an old friend and hear about what’s new from his brand. the booth showcased both epic cigars and also Nat Cicco. I look forward to sampling the Nat Cicco line in the near future.
The whole Espinosa Cigars crew was at the show including Big Tony Gomez, Jack Torano, and the Bro himself, Erik Espinosa. They had their own booth and it boldly displayed the company’s accolades for all to see along with a full display of their hottest selling cigars. Erik and his team could always be found after the show each night making the rounds. If you were not smoking an Espinosa cigars sometime during the show or in the evening, you were not meeting and greeting!
Another new attendee at the show was Jake Wyatt cigars. This is brand that adds artsy craft to their cigars. The name for the company comes from the names of the owners sons. They also package their cigars in 22-count boxes instead of 20 signifying the lineage of three family generations of baseball players wearing jersey number 22.
Here is an interesting company with a long American history. John Hay Cigars was established in Newmanstown, Pennsylvania in 1882. The cigar company, then W.W. Stewart & Sons, moved to Reading PA in 1898 and continued producing cigars until the cigarette industry all but wiped out most local cigar industries in the 50’s.
Craig Stewart, great-grandson of W.W. Stewart, re-introduced the John Hay Cigar in the early 1990’s and when Craig retired, David & Lauren took sole ownership in 2006.
The company boasts about producing some of the industry’s most sought after Pennsylvania Broadleaf cigars. P It’s not the most attractive leaf due to its somewhat uneven, marbleized appearance. But the flavor is extraordinarily rich and distinctive.
These Pennsylvania made cigars are named for the American diplomat and statesman, John Hay (1838-1905). Hay was born in Salem, Indiana in 1838. When Abraham Lincoln became President, he made Hay his Assistant Private Secretary. In 1897, Hay was appointed United States Ambassador to Great Britain. From 1898 until his death in 1905, he served as Secretary of State under Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. John Hay is best remembered for his Open-Door Policy in China and establishing the diplomacy that prepared the way for building the Panama Canal (Hay-Pauncefote Treaty).
Another brand I have thoroughly enjoyed over the years is Maya Selva cigar. Maya herself has been a guest on Taking It To The Nub but was not able to personally attend the show due to the international travel restrictions – she lives in Paris, France. Maya was one of the first female cigar brand owners in the industry. Located in in one of the cigar pavilions, May Selva cigars was showcasing their new Cumpay Maduro Robusto.
Abe Flores form PDR also was set up in one of the pavilions. Though there was no new cigars being presented, he did showcase his all new packaging design which I have to say is eye popping on a shelf. PDR also is the factory that makes the new Hiram and Solomon Curamus.
Pichardo & Crowned Heads
As many of you have read, Crowned Heads and Pichardo (ACE PRIME) have been collaborating for a over a year now. Their booth was manned by Miguel Schoedel national sales manager for Crowned Heads and Luciano Merralis co-founder of ACE Prime Cigars. Although Crowned Heads did not have anything new to present, they were getting quite the response to the Mil Dias and the Col. Luciano told me, his Luciano – The Traveler lancero will now be a full production cigar and he also showcased new Pichardo Classico Cigars including the San Andres.
The Rest Of The Cigar Show
There were many other brands that took the time to come ut and present their craft. Here a slide show of the booths.
Wait There is More
So there you have the recap of the cigar side of TPE, but like I said the larger part of the show is about CBD, VAPE, Glass and Hemp products. While the PCA is where the grandest of cigar booths are, TPE is where this other industry shines and markets heavily. I spoke to one brand owner who told me he did $100,000 in wholesale sales on day 1 and expected to do a quarter million dollars but the end of the three day show. Here some of their booths and presentations.
This years TPE was important to not only the Premium Cigar industry as being the first trade show in well over a year, but also was key to re-opening Las Vegas as it was the first Trade Show since the pandemic started. Based on my discussions with brand owners, retailers came out to buy and many brands stated they opened new accounts at the show and felt it was a success for them and their brand.
The after parties were fun and enjoyable especially the TPE All Industry Party at Drai’s Beach Club and Night Club. I would like to thank Patrick Potter from TABAC Trading Company for his generous hospitality before the show and at his special after party, it was great getting to know him better. I also would like to thank Fouad Kashouty from Hiram & Solomon Cigars for the excellent steak dinner and conversation Friday night.
It was a great pleasure to meet and greet new brands and to re-acquaint with old friends including brands owners, media, social media influencers, and retailers. If TPE 2021 is any indication of the health of the industry, I would say the Premium Cigar industry is heathy and I know consumers will be chomping at the bit to get new offerings. Once again I would like to congratulate Rocky Patel, Stallone Nicaragua, and Foundation Cigars for placing top in their category in 2020. It is one of my great pleasures to present awards at the show.
As for me, I look forward to getting the new blends into the Stogie Press review cycle and hope to have many of the brand owners on the upcoming Taking It To The Nub shows through the year. If you are a brand owner and would like to be on the show, please reach out to me at [email protected].
Till next year I wish the greatest success and prosperity to all.