Alex Svenson: You’ve been a part of this industry for many years but my clients may not be familiar with all of your work. Tell us how you got started.
Erik Espinosa: I began working in the cigar industry in 1997. I’ve worked with many successful cigar brands like Alec Bradley, Gurkha, Rocky Patel and Drew Estate. I’ve done everything from being a Sales Manager and Independent Broker to an in-house Sales Rep, and I’ve even had my own retail cigar shop. In 2004, I, along with my former business partner Eddie Ortega, formed EO Brands. We had many successful and highly-rated cigar brands like 601, Murciélago, Cubao, and 601 La Bomba. In the past, I had other manufacturers making my cigars and now that I have my own factory, I’m finally doing things my way!
AS: Let’s talk about your new ventures. 601 has been a huge success for quite some time. Are there any changes for 601?
EE: I’m now making 601 and Murciélago in two different factories; my La Zona factory in Estelí, Nicaragua, as well as Tabacalera Villa Cuba S.A., the factory owned by Amilcar Perez Castro and Rocky Patel. Amilcar helped me blend the original 601 line.
AS: In addition to 601 I see two new brands, Espinosa and La Zona, have been added to your portfolio. What can you tell me about these cigars?
EE: Espinosa comes in 4 different vitolas: robusto, toro, belicoso and Trabuco, all of which come in boxes of 20. The blend is medium-bodied and features a Habano wrapper. This cigar satisfies your palate with rich and complex flavors such as cocoa, cedar, spice and pepper. Although the cigar contains Nicaraguan tobacco, I will not reveal specific information about the blend because if "The Colonel" never reveals their 11 herbs and spices, then why should I?
La Zona is a value-priced cigar made to honor and introduce our new factory in Estelí, Nicaragua. It comes in 2 different vitolas: robusto and super toro. This medium-bodied cigar comes in gorgeous, rustic 80-count crates as well as mazos of 20. It consists of Nicaraguan fillers and binders and comes in both Connecticut-shade or Habano wrappers.
AS: Your new factory in Estelí is quite impressive. You also have a great team. I heard your production manager used to be the production manager of the Montecristo factory in Cuba?
EE: I met the father-son team of Umberto Macho and Carlos García back in 2010. That is correct, Macho ran a factory in Cuba that produced brands like Montecristo and H. Upmann, to name a few. Both began rolling cigars in Cuba at 18 years young. At La Zona, they carry on their Cuban cigar making traditions with their "entubar" rolling style and each cigar comes with a triple cap. They also oversee production, blending, and overall factory operations. Currently, we’re producing about 6,000 cigars per day.
AS: Speaking of having a solid team, your son recently joined you in the business. How has it been working alongside him?
EE: It’s been wonderful working with my son. For years now I’ve showed him the ropes and taught him almost everything I know. He is involved in the day-to-day operations and is helping me run the company. He began working in some local Miami cigar shops and he really understands the retail side of the business. It’s been a dream of mine to grow and build something with my son and that dream is coming true.
AS: You’ve been in this industry a long time and have seen trends come and go. Can you comment on the explosive growth in the popularity of Nicaraguan cigars?
EE: In my opinion, Nicaragua is producing the best cigars in the world. It’s no coincidence that Estelí, Nicaragua is home to some of our industry’s biggest companies. When it came to finding a location for my factory, there was no doubt in my mind I wanted it to be in Estelí, Nicaragua.
AS: What trends do you see now and do you have any predictions on what the next big thing in cigars will be?
EE: In the many years I’ve been in this industry, I’ve seen many trends come and go. Most recently, people are into big ring gauges. As a manufacturer, we have to pay attention to these trends and give customers what they want. I personally prefer smaller ring gauges, but I think there are different strokes for different folks. I see a trend in cigar enthusiasts reaching for more full-bodied and more flavorful cigars. We are currently working on a full-bodied version of Espinosa with a San Andres maduro wrapper.
AS: Aside from your own cigars, what other brands do you admire and enjoy daily?
AS: When you’re not working or puffing on cigars, how do you like to spend your time?
EE: I enjoy playing dominoes, poker, and watching all kinds of sports. Go Heat! Go Dolphins! Go Marlins!
AS: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
EE: I plan on getting a bigger factory and buying tobaccos from other parts of the world to create new, exciting blends. And who knows, even though we’ve all been waiting for more than 50 years, we may be rolling cigars in Cuba soon.