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During these unprecedented times, CIGAR.com focuses on our community of cigar enthusiasts, bringing interviews right into your home with some of the most prolific names throughout the industry. See our CIGAR.com Facebook Page for the full-length Virtual Herf Seminar with Matt Booth of Room101 Cigars.
LH: Hey everyone, welcome to the next installment of the CIGAR.com Virtual Herf Seminar. My name is Lindsay, if this is the first time you’re joining us here today, we are talking every other week to people in the industry that, to CIGAR.com, have a real special meaning. The man who just sat down is Mr. Matt Booth of Room101, good morning Matt.
MB: Good morning, and how are you?
LH: I’m doing well; how are you at this very early West coast morning?
MB: I’m great, thanks for asking. I’m feeling a little spicy this morning, and I’m very enchanted to have the opportunity to have a conversation with you. So, I’m ready.
LH: Let’s get started.
MB: You want to know things, don’t you?
LH: I always want to know things. I think you know that about me. I’m very inquisitive.
MB: You are. You are, indeed.
LH: Sometimes to a detriment.
MB: Well if you don’t ask, you’ll never know.
LH: That’s right. That’s very true. I think starting off with you; there are a lot of people in this business who come from a very different background. I think your path is one of the more unique ones. You’re a marine, a military man, been involved in the silver scene—the L.A. grunge scene—and suddenly you are presented with this opportunity with Davidoff. How did that all come about?
MB: So my answer, or my comment on this is two-fold, right? One, just on a short note, I think that that’s what makes our industry so beautiful and our community so beautiful as well as—maybe not so much anymore—but especially when I was starting, at the time that I refer to as the golden era of the boutique brands. It was a collective of people that desperately loved tobacco, loved cigars, loved what we were doing, and applied themselves to the production of their products and their brands in a way that was authentic to themselves. So you have this very interesting cast of characters and, at the same time, cast of brands that was a result of that. So everyone expresses their affinity for what we do in their own, unique way, right? Authentically.
So, in terms of the distribution arrangement that I had with Davidoff for our brand, I had connected early on with a gentleman named Dylan Austin, who is now the President of the US operations. At the time he was a young, inspiring Marketing Director for a company called Camacho. I began to build our first Room101 cigar with Dylan, Patty, and Louise, and Don Lee at what is now the old Camacho factory. It was during that period of time that we were developing that cigar that it was announced—the sale was announced to Davidoff—and I was able to broker a manufacturing and distribution arrangement for our brand out of their facility. And I did so, then launched Room101 Cigars in 2009. One fateful day in 2009, at the industry trade show in New Orleans, Louisiana—
LH: The hot and steamy trade show of New Orleans, Louisiana.
MB: A very moist trade show. A very, you know, if one was going to sweat a bit, one would probably want to attend. If you’re a sweater or enjoy perspiring in any way, shape, or form, I would highly recommend attending the New Orleans trade show. It’s a phenomenal time for you.
LH: I’m super curious, because this is something I’m very passionate about, how did you go about sort of training your palate for the research and development aspect of creating cigars?
MB: That’s a very good question. Unbeknownst to me, my palate had training wheels upon it from being a recreational, casual cigar enthusiast. The training wheels must come off when going after it in a professional fashion. The only thing that can develop your palate is time. I think that there are people that are born with an innate gift, a connection to the art and craft of blending—just as one would be adept with cooking or predisposed to some sort of talent with music, mathematics, anything—there are people that are mystically connected to blending. So gifted even beyond a single lifetime, right? But for the less-than-celestial bunch of us, we have to paint by the numbers, and overtime develop our process for blending. What we find to be the most effective really.
LH: Do you that think the time you spend in the industry thus far and coming up with different cigars, different blends, different concepts—do you think that has positively attributed to the other things that Room101 puts on the market, such as gin?
MB: One-hundred percent. My cigar mouth became my alcohol mouth. Non-professionally, my cigar mouth was my alcohol mouth for a very long time. If we’re going to be honest with each other— CIGAR.com, 8AM jam, Pacific—we’re going to be. In just the accelerant, of course. But in terms of palate participation, who knew that I was going to sit alongside a master distiller and compose a formula for our gin—actively and legitimately participate in that, and be able to hang with them. It was all from the development of my palate all within basically the last 12 years at a factory level with tobacco.
Initially I didn’t speak their core language. I don’t think I speak anyone’s core language, really. It was interesting to sit with this gentleman and say, ‘okay so in formula one, why is this note hollow? Why does it not exist here, and why is it prevalent? Why is it overbearing here? Why is it whispering and soft here?’ Then they would explain to me why, and I think that I earned some stripes with them, and earned a little bit of respect. With anything that we do, I’m heavily vested in the creative process. Nothing we do is ‘hey take my pretty flower picture and put it on your thing, and let’s take it to market,’ because I want all of our products to wreak of authenticity, and that’s the only way to ensure that that’s going to be the case.
I’m rambling a bit, I’ve had a bit of coffee, a little jacked up as it were. But, my point is, yeah it’s a very good question. I was pleasantly surprised at how I could participate in that process because of that, because of our experience in tobacco.
LH: Did you ever think of Room101 when you created this concept as taking on so many forms? Or was the evolution, do you think, a little bit more organic as the name recognition grew in the eyes of multiple industries?
MB: No. My vision for Room101 was always to create a lifestyle collection that was akin to the Alfred Dunhill of 1950. This was one of the chief inspirations for Room101. I’ve always been desperately in love with those European lifestyle/gentleman’s collection. Whatever label you want to place on them, you know, we all know what we’re talking about. Overtime, a lot of those brands have been thinned out or drawn back to a core product.
The genesis for—in my wildest fantasies as a brander or, at the time, unknowingly that I was going to become a brand builder—the point is, is that I dreamt. I was highly, highly passionate and vested in—very similarly to developing my palate when it came to entering tobacco—learning my core craft, from bench work to wax carving…following that, into the process of then attempting to sell your work. Just developing my core skill sets in terms of jewelry development and production.
Far off in the distance, I could imagine a time that there would be the modern-day version of the Dunhill of 1950. I forever called our style techno retro. Old-school craft, modern-day stylization.
For the full-length Virtual Herf Seminar with Matt Booth of Room101 Cigars, visit our CIGAR.com Facebook Page.
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