22 Apr 2008
[Editors’ Note: The following is a guest commentary by Gary J. Arzt. Mr. Arzt is a Florida-based investor and a contributor to a number of cigar publications. In the interests of transparency, the author wants it to be known that he was first a devotee to Pepin Garcia’s cigars and has since become a good friend of Don Pepin and the Garcia family.]
Sam Driban of Black Cat Cigar Company was an early friend and fan of Don Pepin. Three years ago, Pepin started to make a cigar called Rey Miguel for him.
Last month, according to the screed on his website, Driban received a call from John Gonzales, “a man I’ve never met,” who is, nonetheless, the National Sales Manager for Don Pepin brands. Gonzales advised him that Pepin’s company could no longer make Rey Miguel for Black Cat.
Driban was “…upset, as I considered him a friend.” He felt he had been “blown off.”
But he had a plan to get even. He ordered a large quantity of Pepin’s cigars – JJs, Black labels, Blue labels, Vegas Cubans – and listed them on the Black Cat website at absurdly low prices, prefaced with this story of “betrayal.” Sending a mixed message, Driban says, “Enjoy these cigars at rock bottom prices as I no longer wish to help my former friend.” He follows this with, “I hope that one day soon our relationship can be reconciled.”
I am sure Pepin is elated at the prospect of reconciliation. Just as I am sure Pepin didn’t do what he did to damage the relationship and upset Driban. The dynamics of companies, especially companies growing at the rate of Pepin’s, change constantly and, unfortunately, Rey Miguel no longer was a good fit. Small production cigars will only cause dislocation in a Tabacalera producing Don Pepins, 601s, San Cristobals, and Tatuajes.
In an industry that I always saw as peopled by gentlemen, there has been too much acrimony of late. One has no choice, I suppose, but to yap at the heels of the top dog.
–Gary J. Arzt
[UPDATE: Mr. Driban’s response can be found here.]
photo credit: El Rey de los Habanos