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News: Two Former Drew Estate Tobacco Gurus Ready for New Phase

4 Jun 2015

Despite the fact the FDA could rule before the end of the year that cigars introduced now cannot be sold or marketed without the FDA’s approval, cigar companies continue to churn out new cigars.

foundation-cigar-coAnd with the annual IPCPR Trade Show less than two months out, more and more new cigars are being announced. (As we have seven out of the past eight years, will be covering the IPCPR from the show floor, which this year is in humid New Orleans in late July.)

Melillo Announces Foundation Cigar Co.

In addition to the many new cigars, two former key figures at Drew Estate are expected to announce their next phase in the cigar industry. Nicholas Melillo, who left Drew Estate roughly 13 months ago, was the first to announce his future plans.

On Tuesday Melillo, who had been executive vice president of international operations at Drew Estate before his departure, announced the formation of Foundation Cigar Company. The company, which will be headquartered in Connecticut, is preparing to introduce its first blend at the IPCPR Trade Show.

While exact details of the blend are not yet known, in a press release Melillo, who goes by “Nick R. Agua” online, said he will be making his first cigar at the TABSA (Tobaccos Valle de Jalapa) factory in Nicaragua, using Aganorsa tobacco, which is also extensively used in Drew Estate blends. The first cigars are scheduled to arrive in cigar shops in September, and reportedly will retail for around $10.

Melillo described his new partnership in a distributed statement: “I have known and been purchasing tobacco from Eduardo Fernandez and his team since 2003. It’s great to work with guys who really know their tobacco. They have welcomed me in with open arms and have given me access to their special cuartos anejamiento, or ‘aging rooms.’ I have personally selected some very special vintage tobaccos which possess some amazing flavors and complex characteristics. The variety of Nicaraguan tobaccos they have in the warehouse is incredible and some of the blends I have worked up are, well, let’s just say we are all very excited about them. The tough part in working up a few nice blends is deciding which cigar you like the best.”

Steve Saka Non-Compete Ending Soon; Announcement to Follow?

Melillo’s new cigar is certainly highly anticipated, but maybe not as much as an expected announcement from former Drew Estate president and CEO Steve Saka. During the time when Saka and Melillo were at Drew Estate, the two played a critical role in growing the company from an operation known mostly for its unorthodox infused cigars to a Nicaraguan juggernaut that made some of the most sought-after non-infused cigars, including Liga Privada.

Saka left Drew Estate in July 2013 and reportedly has a two-year non-compete agreement that will expire only a week prior to the IPCPR Trade Show. In a series of recent Facebook posts, Saka has been sharing photos from Nicaragua where he has been spending time sampling tobacco in Nicaragua, which many have interpreted as preparation for his next cigar venture.

If, as many expect, an announcement about his future plans in the cigar industry comes soon, Saka would be one of many who has “retired” from one company only to reemerge in the industry after a contractually obligated hiatus. The cycle of cigar makers gaining expertise, experience, and capital at one company only to strike out on their own later is one of the aspects of the industry that drives innovation and competition to the great benefit of consumers.

Patrick S

photo credits: Foundation Cigar Company

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Commentary: Looking Ahead to the Big Cigar Show in New Orleans | The Stogie Guys - Monday, July 13, 2015

    […] releases I’m personally more eager to try than the cigars from Nicholas Melillo and Steve Saka. Both were instrumental to Drew Estate’s immensely successful transition into the non-infused premium […]