12 May 2014
Nicholas Melillo, popularly known as “Nick R. Agua” on Facebook and Twitter, is leaving his role at Drew Estate, where he served for 11 years with responsibilities ranging from tobacco purchasing and fermentation to quality control and shipment planning.
According to a press release issued midday on Friday by Drew Estate, “Melillo mastered the blending of some of the company’s top-selling brands, including Liga Privada No. 9, T52, Dirty Rat, Flying Pig, UF-13, L40, Undercrown, Nirvana, Kahlua, Java, and Nica Rustica, He also worked alongside Willy Herrera on Herrera Estelí.”
When Melillo joined Drew Estate in 2003, the company was nowhere near its current levels of production (about 100,000 cigars per day with 1,500 employees—the largest cigar operation in Nicaragua). The Connecticut native played an integral role in the company’s success, according to Jonathan Drew. “Melillo has been a major asset in bringing our company to our current level of expertise and quality,” reads the press release. “He has been instrumental in creating blends to categorically change the traditional cigar market.”
Melillo, who got his start at a cigar shop near New Haven, Connecticut, was formerly Executive Vice President of International Operations for Drew Estate. In January, he left to become a consultant on tobacco purchasing and cigar blending under his company, Melillo International. The next step in Melillo’s premium cigar career is not yet known—though it is clear he does not plan to leave the industry for good.
Who Will Fill the Void?
As I was visiting Drew Estate in Estelí last month, Jonathan Drew was candid about the fact that he was grappling with the reality that his role is to make business decisions for the company. He is more of a corporate executive than a cigar blender or tobacco man. Nicholas Melillo was filling the roll of blending, monitoring fermentation, and attempting to maintain quality control in the face of increased production.
These roles used to be shared between Melillo and Steve Saka, the CEO of Drew Estate who retired in July 2013. Saka has a non-compete agreement in place until the summer of 2015 (Drew Estate repurchased his interests in the company when he left), whereas Melillo remains a partner in Drew Estate.
On the heels of Melillo and Saka leaving, the obvious question is: Who will step up to the plate for Drew Estate’s growing tobacco purchasing, fermentation, blending, quality control, etc. needs? My colleagues and I will keep you apprised as details emerge.
photo credit: Stogie Guys