Bryan Ott: Nat Sherman has been a staple in the cigar industry for many years. Can you briefly discuss the brand’s history?
Michael Herklots: Nat was a man, before it was a brand. In the late 1920’s, Nat acquired a New York City based cigar company called Schwab Bros. and Baer. Shortly thereafter, a real estate developer named Abe Gubertz approached Nat for a loan in order to complete construction of 1400 Broadway in Manhattan. In return, Mr. Gubertz gave the building’s lobby retail space to Nat as partial payment for the loan, in which Nat opened his first namesake store, selling cigars and cigarettes in 1930. Nat went on to develop his Nat Sherman brand of cigars, made in Tampa, FL. His firm was also one of three importers and distributors of Cuban cigars for the United States east of the Mississippi river, and the exclusive importer and distributor for the Cuban Bolivar brand for the entire United States. In the late 1940’s, at the request of a customer looking for a cigarette that tasted like a cigar, in response to a ban of cigar smoking on his flight from New York to London, Nat created an oval cigarette made with Havana Tobacco, his foray into the cigarette business. Fast forward to today, under the leadership of Nat’s son Joel, and Joel’s children, Bill, Larry and Michele, Nat Sherman remains a family owned business, that continues to experience growth and success in the natural luxury cigarette business as well as the premium cigar business, and continues to maintain a namesake flagship store in New York City, now located in a quaint Townhouse on 42nd Street, just east of Fifth Avenue.
BO: What is something the average cigar enthusiast would not know about Nat Sherman?
MH: We have a tremendous number of loyal “brand fans”, but it seems each fan has their own connection to the brand. There are many loyal fans of our legendary cigar, who weren’t even aware we made luxury cigarettes, and vice versa. I think many cigar enthusiasts would be surprised to learn that we began in the cigar business first, and in addition, our long history with the Cuban Cigar business in the United States prior to the embargo. Some other interesting facts: Nat Sherman was a bit of a pioneer in cigar innovations. We were the first premium cigar to use a “tip” in the 1950’s. In 1991, Nat’s son Joel (our current President/CEO) relocated their flagship store to 500 Fifth Avenue at the corner of 42nd street, into a 7,000 square foot space, in order to provide ample space for Nat Sherman customers to sit and enjoy their purchases within the store itself. Of course at the time, cigar smoking was permitted in countless venues, and the concept of an in-store lounge was entirely foreign, but the “lounge” concept was paramount to the true Nat Sherman experience. In the early 2000’s we were among the first to push the large ring gauge barrier with the release of the Nat Sherman “Banker” measuring 5” x 70, a cigar we continue to sell very successfully today in our Metropolitan selections.
BO: Sterling, 1930, and Timeless are relatively new offerings compared to the other Nat Sherman lines. Can you tell us a little bit about each?
MH: In 2011, we made a number of changes. We discontinued some older lines in order to really focus on our core “classic collection” of Metropolitan and Metropolitan Maduro Selections, both made in Dominican Republic, and the Host Selection made in Honduras. These truly are classic in every sense, rather “old world”, though still tremendously popular. We then began developing some “new world” products, and Timeless was the first project. Ultimately the Timeless Collection is made up of two very unique blends, the Timeless Collection from Dominican Republic has 6 round vitolas, packed in boxes of 20. They are a full-bodied, medium strength blend of six tobaccos from three countries. The Nicaraguan Timeless Collection is a box-pressed Nicaraguan puro in black boxes of 21 cigars. This blend contains no ligero at all, so it offers the richness of Nicaragua’s terroir without the ferocity of the strongest, tallest leaves, giving a very medium-bodied, rich, smooth experience. There are 6 formats in this blend as well. The Timeless Collection is exclusively available through Brick and Mortar Tobacconists. The 1930 was the next launch, made in Dominican Republic. It features a gorgeous Dominican-grown wrapper, surrounding a blend of Nicaraguan and Dominican tobaccos. It’s full-bodied with a bright baking spice-like note that is really pleasant. They’re available in five formats, packed in boxes of 24. Finally, the Sterling is a very special project. To comment first, when we introduce new products to market, we never do so with the intention of competing with an existing product, but rather to “fill in the blanks” and bring something new to market. The Sterling redefines elegance in premium cigars. The four-vitola collection features four expressions of this blend, in sizes that are traditional and sophisticated… the fattest of which tops out at 46 ring gauge. The cigars are packed without cellophane in traditional wheels of 25 cigars. The blend features a Dominican binder and fillers, finished with a beautiful Ecuador-grown Connecticut wrapper. It’s got a surprisingly full body, in a creamy mellow smoke. Last, we offer in very limited quantities a collection of “Super Lanceros”, measuring 8” x 38 in boxes of ten cigars, in the Timeless (Dominican), 1930 and Sterling blends.
BO: What sets Nat Sherman apart from other cigar brands? Where do you see the brand within the industry?
MH: First things first, we are an American brand. And, we have nearly 85 years of products,stories and pictures that have made us who we are. Spend some time on our website, and take a look at some of the photos, letters and videos that speak to our heritage. Nat Sherman has always been innovative. Nat Sherman has always been an above board, honest firm that believes in its people and its products. Nat Sherman is inclusive rather than exclusive… and has always made sure there is a Nat Sherman product that suits all tastes and needs, without ever compromising quality.
BO: Michael, you’ve worn many hats in the cigar industry? Can you describe your journey to where you are today?
MH: It’s been a hell of a journey. I am incredibly blessed, and am fortunate to have been able to work the folks I’ve worked with. Arguably, with the exception of a few of my family and oldest friends, all of the people who mean the most to me in my life, I’ve met somehow through this industry. I began in the industry as a retailer in Boston, working at a Kiosk in the Prudential Center Mall called The Humidor in 1999. We closed in 2001, and I went to work for Gloucester Street Cigar Company until I moved to New York in 2002. I was hired as a sales person at Davidoff on Madison Ave in 2002, and in addition to sales, took over the responsibilities for creating and executing our in-store event program. Then in 2006, Davidoff purchased the Columbus Circle location, and I was moved there as General Manager. In 2008 I was put in charge of both New York Davidoff stores. I got to work on and complete the development of and transition to the new Davidoff store on Madison Ave prior to my departure. I left Davidoff in the summer of 2011 to join Nat Sherman. Throughout my time at Davidoff, while my responsibilities were focused on retail, I spent as much time as possible in Dominican Republic with the Quesada family… getting to contribute to and participate in some of their growth and development. So today, with Nat Sherman I’m really responsible for all of the non-cigarette side of the company. I have the privilege of working with two of my closest friends, Pat Felitti who is the Director of Store Sales, Hospitality and Operations for The Nat Sherman Townhouse, our flagship retail store in Manhattan, and Ike Karipides, the Director of Premium Cigar Sales who leads all of our sales efforts. And of course, I work closely with the Quesada Family at their namesake cigar factory in Dominican Republic, as well as the Plasencias in Nicaragua and Davidoff via their Camacho factory. And finally, working with the Sherman family has been very special… they’re an incredible family, and have really made me feel like part of their family.
BO: What is your favorite part of the cigar industry? Where is your passion most evident?
MH: I’m a musician… drum set. My degree is in music… and if you asked me my favorite part of being a musician, I couldn’t answer. I love performing. I love composing. I love practicing. I love listening, collaborating, improvising… you name it. For me it’s no different. When you make a living doing something you’re most passionate about, at least for me, there’s no way to pick one piece that’s a favorite. I love sales. I love creating new products. I love spending time with other manufacturers, other retailers, and other consumers. You’ll see my passion when you taste our new products, when you visit our store, or when you sit and enjoy a cigar with me somewhere.
BO: Besides cigars, do you have any other hobbies or passions?
MH: As I mentioned I’m a drummer, and still enjoy playing. I still get to perform and record with various musicians. I’m a fan of all things culinary… food and wine. There are so many parallels to cigars, in manufacturing, creating balance… and the pleasure of sharing the products with other people. I enjoy traveling, thankfully… as it’s part of my job. But, more than all of it my biggest passion is my family. My wife Tiffany is the best… ask anyone who’s ever met her. Everyone wonders how I got so lucky. And we just welcomed our first child, our daughter Rose, in September. Everyone says having children is a game changer… but really… how extraordinary!
BO: Thank you for your time and wealth of knowledge. Is there anything else you’d like to say to our customers before you go?
MH: First, when you have a history as ours, and with diversification as ours, it’s very easy to bring pre-conceived notions to our brand and products without having really tried them. I want to assure you, you will be impressed with Nat Sherman’s cigars. With fresh eyes and palate, I invite you to come experience Nat Sherman again. While our ethics and philosophies haven’t changed, we’ve continued to develop new flavors and new experiences for our ever developing customers in an always changing industry. And equally important, as consumers, our tastes and preferences have changed and developed over time and with experience, which all support the need to revisit our brand.