Tracing their roots back to 19th century Cuba, located within the country’s most famous Pinar del Río growing region, the Cuevas family is well established within the arena of premium cigar craftsmanship. Now in the family’s fourth generation of tobacco involvement, father and son team Luis Cuevas Sr. and Jr. have settled in the Santiago region of the Dominican Republic, producing high-caliber cigars for some of the cigar industry’s biggest players.
In 2017, the Cuevas’ officially debuted their own brand of premium cigars with the eponymous Casa Cuevas Cigars. With a clean and clear-cut selection of three blends, the Casa Cuevas name began to take hold in craft cigar circles throughout the following two years. But in early 2019, smokers were shocked with the news that Casa Cuevas’ Miami-based warehouse had been burglarized.
Casa Cuevas’ entire inventory of 25,000 cigars was stolen, leaving cigar hobbyists apprehensive for the company’s future. It wasn’t until May of this year—three months after the incident—that Casa Cuevas revealed its plans for the 2019 year, rebounding from their devastating losses with the announcement of La Mandarria, a limited blend that aims to tackle the incident head on.
We spoke with Luis Cuevas Jr., president of Casa Cuevas Cigars, regarding the burglary and how the company plans to move forward, beginning with the 2019 IPCPR trade show, held later this week in Las Vegas.
Q: Luis, it seemed as though Casa Cuevas had just begun to hit its stride throughout 2018 and leading into the 2019 year. Then your Miami-based warehouse is burglarized, this is not something you hear about very often in the cigar industry.
A: We at Casa Cuevas were very excited about the new year, 2018 was great for us. The Casa Cuevas brand was getting recognition by both retailers and consumers. We were seeing growth, and we had just moved into our new Miami-based office. So, 2018 ended on a high note! Our plans for 2019 were to travel the country spreading the word of our four-generation cigar heritage and the Casa Cuevas brand. We were beginning the process of planning out our first booth at the 2019 IPCPR. We were focused on the national launch of the Cuevas Reserva, which is a blend that is very near to my father’s heart.
With the above stated, the robbery was deflating. We were gaining positive momentum and then this happens. We have heard similar stories from companies who fell victim to robberies like Kuuts Cigars, Fuentes, Gurkha, Drew Estate, and CLE. I never gave thought to it happening to us. Sadly, since we had just moved in, we didn’t secure insurance. Hence, we incurred losses of a totaled 25,000 cigars, which equates to $150,000 retail.
Q: What was the first thing that ran through your head when learning of the theft?
A: The first thing that went through my head was to call my mentor, my father. He was in our factory (Las Lavas Cigar Factory) down in the Dominican Republic. My father, Luis Cuevas Sr., was upset, but unwavering in the fact that we had to move forward in a positive way. Many don’t know that he left his two passions behind in Cuba (family and tobacco) to secure a better future for all of us. He arrived in Spain, penniless, but forged ahead. After a few years he came to the U.S. to reinvent himself once again. So, in essence, my father recognizes that all of these obstacles serve as nothing more than extra motivation to move ahead. Who am I to argue with my dad?
Q: Is there video evidence? And how do I get my hands on it?
A: There is some grainy black and white video of the robbers parking a truck, and breaking in, using sledgehammers. We were so fortunate that our friends in the industry and local media here in South Florida really gave extensive coverage of the robbery. The video spread like wildfire on social media and the local TV news stations. I think we did a great job of spreading the word about the theft, and shops we’ve visited throughout the nation have heard of what occurred.
Click images below for full resolution
Q: Have any of the stolen Casa Cuevas cigars been spotted online or at retailers since the event?
A: I think the extra exposure has kept the products from surfacing, as we haven’t heard of the product yet.
Q: Were the limited-edition cigars that were stolen numbered? I’d imagine this could help track down the culprits.
A: Yes, the Casa Cuevas Limited Edition Flacos were numbered. We figure this also plays a role as to why we haven’t seen them surface.
Q: Do you have any theories as to why Casa Cuevas was targeted? What actions have you taken to prevent such an incident going forward?
A: We have no clue, but we made it much more difficult for anyone who tries to break into our facility. We installed cameras, a more sophisticated alarm system, etc.
Q: Casa Cuevas has mentioned that consumers and other manufacturers were quick to lend a helping hand after learning of the incident. Can you comment on this. What types of things were offered to Casa Cuevas?
A: The cigar industry is like no other. It really is like one big family. Upon learning of the theft, we were contacted by many industry people offering condolences and help, such as Tony Pichs, owner of Fuera de Serie Cigars. Tony went online to tell all his supporters to purchase Casa Cuevas Cigars at local Miami shops. Moreover, the alarm folks installed additional security inside our humidor at no charge. The wall breakage was repaired by a company owned by a friend of ours at no charge. Prime Cigar Bar in Brickell waived their locker fee this year for us (this would be our third year having a locker there). All phenomenal gestures.
Q: At some point, I’d assume you have to accept your losses and move forward—how did you handle the transition from loss to a rebuilding phase?
A: As I said before, my dad didn’t make it this far in life if not for his resiliency. We simply forged head. Fortunately, we have our own factory, so we went back to work immediately and restocked as quickly as possible. Then came the idea of the Mandarria brand, which translates to Sledgehammer. My son, Alec, who now works in the family business, came up with the name Mandarria. Obviously, the Mandarria or Sledgehammer refers to the tool that was used in the robbery, but the cigar serves as a dedication to my father. His iron will and strength to overcome is stronger than anything that life threw at him. He is an example that everything is possible if you have a strong and positive mindset. For us, he is the sledgehammer.
Click images below for full resolution
Q: I’ve seen companies skip out on the annual IPCPR trade show for much less, but you seem to be fully embracing this incident, perhaps even using it to your advantage. Was there ever doubt that Casa Cuevas would be a part of this year’s trade show?
A: With the above said, there was no way we could skip out on the IPCPR. 2018 was a great year for us and we had big plans to release the Cuevas Reserva brand. The robbery was unfortunate, but it wasn’t going to slow us down.
Q: Your headlining cigar for 2019 is La Mandarria. It has a romantic sound to it, but I sense there’s some underlying animosity behind the project.
A: La Mandarria is not premised on animosity; it’s premised on a pun based on the principal tool used against us in the robbery. But we like to think that we have a bigger sledgehammer. It really was a way to show them that they couldn’t bring us down.
Q: What was your goal when creating this cigar and what experience would you like smokers to come away with?
A: The Mandarria (Sledgehammer) was created to fulfill its namesake. It is our first full-bodied cigar; but we didn’t want it to be harsh or overly spicy (often the case with full-bodied cigars). This is a strength you can taste but which creeps up on you, as you enjoy the smoke. My father did an excellent job in creating this blend. We are proud of the project and it may become part of our core repertoire as we move forward. For now, it is limited to 500 boxes (10,000 cigars), all in a Habano wrapper.
Q: From a blending perspective, did the cigar’s profile take shape naturally, or was the intent always to showcase the strongest experience to date from Casa Cuevas?
A: Blending wise, the goal was strength with great taste. So, going into it, we had a good idea of what we were looking for; and it evolved quite quickly, surprisingly.
Q: Is there special meaning to the cigar’s unique look? (pigtail cap and shaggy foot).
A: The pigtail and shaggy foot were included to set it apart from our regular core-line Habanos. To set Mandarria apart from our core line, we created a 52 gauge, with the shaggy foot and pigtail. I am fond of the pigtail because you can snip it off with your fingers and smoke right away. As for the shaggy foot, it gives the smoker a few minutes of smoking the binder and filler without the wrapper, and then presents a transition into a different cigar once the wrapper begins to burn.
Q: Looking back over the past year, are there any decisions you would now make differently?
A: Absolutely, I would: A) have insurance, B) have security systems installed within the humidor!!! But as they say, hindsight is 20/20!
Otherwise, it’s been a great year and we have more than doubled sales at this point from last year. I feel that the consumers really appreciate the blends, and of course, we appreciate them.
Q: Thank you for your time, Luis, I look forward to meeting again at IPCPR and taking a deeper look at The Sledgehammer and Casa Cuevas’ 2019 offerings.
A: Jordan, thank you and Cigar Dojo for your time! My father and I look forward smoking a Sledgehammer with you at the Casa Cuevas Booth!