There is an old Latin American tradition that when a girl turns 15 she has a party similar to what we do in America for sweet 16. It known as Quinceañera which is the feminine form of “fifteen-year-old”. The party celebrates the young girl becoming a woman. In Cuba the celebration includes a highly choreographed group dance where 14 couples waltz around the Quinceañera (the new 15 year old girl). The girl is accompanied by a male of her choice – her escort for the evening.
You may ask – why do I bring this up in a cigar publication?
A month ago I had the privilege of befriending the owners of the Tres Lindas Cubanas Cigar Co. on Facebook. I was intrigued by the name which translates to Three Beautiful Cuban women, and knowing that we would be doing a Ladies of the Leaf issue in May I reached out to them to see if they were open to a “sit down chat” to discuss their business and lives in the cigar world. I knew very little more than their names, Yvette and Yvonne Rodriguez and that they had a cigar line with a feminine name to it. By the end of the chat I would say I learned some more Cuban culture and got to know this new brand better.
After some messages back and forth, we settled on a time and place to meet, and I took the trip down to Miami to have our chat. We chose to meet at the 100 fires cigar shop in Coral Gables, a quaint little shop that reminds me of some of the old time Cuban shops I have been in. I arrived a little early so I met the manager George and we sat down and watched some “South Park” on the big screen. About an episode or two and most of the My Father Le Bijou cigar I was smoking, Yvette – one of the two sisters that own Tres Lindas Cubanas – stepped into the shop. Did I mention that the two sisters are twins? Yvette greeted me warmly and we shared some Pinot Grigio as we sat down to start discussing Tres Lindas Cubanas cigars. Her sister Yvonne would show up a bit later as she was stuck in the Miami traffic.
The initial conversation centered on getting to know Yvette and her family background. Yvette explained that she and her sister are 1st generation Cuban Americans. Their father was a member of the Cuban National Soccer team back in the late 1960s and defected via the Nicaraguan embassy and eventually to the US in 1970. Their mother found her way to the US in 1969 after High School. The sisters are what are described as Afro Cuban and in her words she described herself as Mulatto – a lighter shade of color. Their family is varied in color and as you will read that was a major contributor to the brand name.
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. They both consider Miami a special place and like many 1st Generation Cuban Americans; they do their part to give back to the city especially Little Havana that gave them so much. Yvette and Yvonne are both graduates of the University of Florida where they studied journalism, public relations and marketing. The currently have their own Public Relations and Marketing firm Y.R. Public Relations that keep them busy in addition to running their cigar company.
The conversation shifted to their love of cigars and when they started to enjoy the leaf. Yvette explained that it goes back to when they were 16 years old. Their Grandma – who passed away about 10 years ago smoked cigars in the house. So it was not seen like a taboo to them. It was natural. Grandma used wear long flowing skirts and a special “smoking apron” to protect her clothes from the ashes. I can appreciate that as I have a number of smoking shirts that do the same thing for me. They would watch Grandma sitting in a rocking chair firing up a stogie and just relaxing.
The sisters quickly picked it up and understood early on the enjoyment and relaxation one gets from smoking a cigar of course to the dismay of their parents as grandma was the only one in the house that smoked. “There was always this fascination” they said of women smoking cigars. “It is kind of an allure, but being themselves they did not care what other thought about it. They enjoyed the instant relaxation.” Yvette said “Cigars offer a moment of comradery; it transcends age, race, sex, and social status. It does not matter who you are it only matters that you enjoy it…. smoking cigars is a pastime she enjoys, just like going to the beach or reading books.” Yvonne added “the cigar culture is great, everyone is different and you just need to take the time out to relax and enjoy a good cigar, whether in solitude, with friends, or even with someone new you just met at a local shop.”
So how did these two ladies come to start a cigar line? Sometimes things just fall in your lap and you have to run with it.
The company is just 2 years old and it all 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. Jamil was also an avid cigar smoker and accepted the task to be the blend expert.
The team wanted to make a cigar for the every day smoker, with blends that could be enjoyed through the day. A light smoke for the morning’s transitioning to darker, more intense smokes, as the evening drew on. They worked directly with the factory in Estelí, getting blends shipped up to Miami to taste. Their friends and shops in the area sampled the different blends and settled on the final 3. They were taking baby steps and didn’t want a full set of vitolas for the company just yet, so it was decided to go with a torpedo first.
Now that they had the blends and the vitola was selected, they had to come up with a name. The sisters started researching a number of cigar web sites and noticed that everyone had a story – a history to their brand. Reaching from within themselves and their history, they realized they had a story to tell also which takes us back to the Quinceañera and their family.
Being born from an Afro-Cuban family they knew that danzón was their story. Danzón is the official musical genre and dance of Cuba and were influenced by African rhythmic and dance styles and so became a genuine fusion of European and African. The most beautiful danzón was “Tres Lindas Cubanas” written by Antonio Maria Romeu and was a favorite piece played at a young girl’s Quinceañera. It celebrates Cuban woman and the line of cigars would follow along with that and represent the three different types of Cuban woman. So it was settled the name of the company would be Tres Lindas Cubanas and the three blends would represent the shades of the Cuban Women.
The Tres Lindas Cubanas website describes their blends as:
LA NEGRITA –is a strong Torpedo Maduro with a memorable start and finish. La Negrita is a flavorful slow burn, with a punch to keep you satisfied.
LA MULATA – The name best suited to describe this smoke is to be enjoyed by individuals who appreciate the scent, nuances and taste of a medium to full-bodied stick.
LA CLARITA – always brings a smile to faces. This Torpedo Connecticut embodies everything great about the Caribbean. Light, festive and enjoyed at any time, by all.
The last part of the equation was to create the boxes and bands. The sisters kept the bands simple to represent their simple and humble upbringing and they decided to use a local Miami manufacturer to make the boxes to give back to the community they love so much.
As far as marketing goes, the sisters run local cigar happy hours in local shops where they visit and sit with patrons smoking and talking cigars and whatever the topic of discussion. Yvonne is never short of conversation and both sisters can truly work a crowd. The happy hours are great for all, the shops don’t have to commit to box buys and the patrons get to experience their cigars if they choose.
Tres Lindas Cubanas cigars can be found in 5 shops in Miami including 100 Fires in the Miami Marlins stadium and also two shops in the Chicago area. If you live elsewhere the sisters sell their cigars online through their website.
The Company has 4 principle members:
- Yvonne Rodriguez –Digital Marketing
- Yvette Rodriguez – Media Relations
- Jamil Raheem – Sales
- Marcus Lightfoot – Operations
Besides their own brand, the ladies also enjoy many other brands so they maintain a balanced palate but some of their favorites are; Oliva V, Flor de las Antillas, and La Antiguedad. Their favorite beverages to pair with cigars are Havana Club Rum, Wine or a nice Café Cubano. They agreed that in the world of cigars the tobacco blending should speak for itself when it comes to flavor s and though there is a market for infused cigars they are not interested in making any.
In closing the sisters said “in this business women may be doubted, we were second guessed at first but now are being talked about seriously and treated well everywhere we go.” Even as I was writing this article I posted a photo of the La Mulata and got some thumbs up from my social media followers saying that it is a terrific cigar.