The first stop on the Box Press cigar tour of Miami features tales of acrobats, a new celebrity cigar, stink bugs and more with cigar legend Jack Toraño.
Espinosa Cigar’s brand ambassador gives host Rob Gagner a Knuckle Sandwich, the new Guy Fieri cigar. Hear how the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives star launched his stick. Private jet to Puerto Rico. Mongo release party. Cadre of chefs. BAM!
Jack shares the ups and downs of working in the cigar industry for more than three decades. Currently, Jack travels the country representing Espinosa Premium Cigars, supervising reps and brokers and coordinating Espinosa’s cigar events.
Shot on location at Miami’s Empire Social Lounge. Take a moment to enjoy South Florida’s cigar lifestyle—relax and listen to good stories over good cigars with good company.
“So I’m dealing with all these employees that are in a really festive mood and carrying their cookies in and I’ve been shit-canned.”
Storing cigars with Boveda is like taking them to “flavor town.” Put Boveda in a humidor to preserve the taste of all your premium cigars, including the new Knuckle Sandwich. Shop Boveda for tobacco here.
Read Full Interview: Video Transcript
– [Rob] There’s a story inside every smoke shop. With every cigar and with every person. Come be a part of the cigar lifestyle of Boveda. This is Box Press. Welcome to another episode of Box Press. I’m your host Rob Gagner. I’m sitting next to Jack Toraño of the Toraño Family. That’s a legacy in the business of itself. And Jack is now working with Espinosa Cigars. We are actually sitting back and smoking the Knuckle Sandwich by Guy Fieri that you guys over at Espinosa are making for him. Jack, thanks for joining me.
– This is awesome. You were telling me before we started rolling the cameras; Guy Fieri is launching this where?
– Puerto Rico, today, tonight.
– Tonight. There’s a film crew, there’s a private jet that he has.
– Private jet.
– With the Knuckle Sandwich logo on it.
– Yeah, with a Knuckle Sandwich logo. And him and Eric boarded that plane yesterday, along with some other top chefs that do his show, and headed off to Puerto Rico. And they’re gonna do. They’re filming Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. So he’s throwing in this event at The Cigar House in Puerto Rico tonight. And I’ve heard they’ve gotten like 400 RSVPs.
– Yeah. If Guy Fieri’s gonna be there, I’m going.
– Yeah. We were talking about it a few minutes ago, arguably one of the most popular guys around right now. Everybody watches a food network. I mean, it was surreal for me. My wife has The Food Network on all the time in the house, and it’s Guy Fieri, Guy Fieri, Guy Fieri every time I’m home. And I’m sitting in the office one day in the conference room and I’m on my laptop, and in stroll’s Guy Fieri sits in front of me and he’s gonna have lunch. And I’m looking over the laptop, Adam, and I’m like, this guy’s on my TV every night. And he’s such a down to earth guy. It was it was such a great moment and we had a really good time. And he is committed to this. He’s not gonna do anything half-assed. He’s got his line of tequila with Sammy Hagar, Santo, and now Knuckle Sandwich Cigars.
New Cigar Trend? Celebrities Endorsing Cigars Again?
– So, let’s talk a little bit about that because celebrities in cigar endorsements, whether they’re professional athletes or other celebrities, we saw that boom in the ’90s.
– That came, it went as fast as it came, I here, I don’t know. I got into cigars in the 2000s.
– Still being played a little.
– Absolutely, they’re still there. But do you think it lasts? Do you think it can actually be brand building, or is it a flash in the pan?
– It depends. I mean, we’ve seen it come and go. And certainly, you have a lot of athletes that are popular. Listen, Ed Reed, I love Ed Reed. Ed Reed is a friend. Ed Reed’s popular here in Miami. He’s got his own cigar now.
– Wait, I didn’t know that, he has his own cigar?
– I haven’t seen it anywhere. I see it when I’m with Ed.
– Yeah, I haven’t seen anything on his website.
– It’s very like his website right now. ER Cigars or… So it might not have been released yet, and I wish him the best. But a lot of athletes that play this, Ditka arguably had a little success in it because his popularity kind of went outside of Chicago.
– Mike Ditka.
– [Rob] Mike Ditka.
– Mike Ditka.
– If you’re gonna put somebody in at least football and say football and cigars, Ditka is probably first in the top three.
– Yeah, listen, Jay-Z had a shot to really go big, and that kind of fizzled out.
– Did he come out with a cigar?
– Yeah. General did a cigar for him that didn’t last long. And then Michael Jordan did a cigar that lasted two weeks.
– No way! I was always wondering, how could Michael Jordan has never done a cigar? He is cigars and basketball. Basketball, cigars, Michael Jordan. That’s like the three.
– Michael Jordan, you look back to me, that’s what I remember mostly about the Bulls’ runs. That when he would win a championship, this guy had a cigar, a cigar, a cigar.
– And the people in the stand had a cigar.
– I remember watching ESPN Classic, and I was watching the Bulls fight it off and fight it off and I’m going, what’s wrong with this image? There’s a haze of smoke.
– Cigarette and cigar smoke.
– Just over the lower deck guys. And the guys are in the stand, smoking the cigars. And I’m like, you could smoke at a stadium.
– Back in the ’80s.
– You remember back in the Celtic games, I mean, it was just they were playing in a haze.
– Yeah, it was crazy.
– This perfect cloud of illustrious smoke.
When It Comes to Cigars, Guy Fieri is the Real Deal
– So, I will argue that nobody of the popularity of a Guy Fieri has come into our industry. And not just because… I think it’s gonna be great for the industry itself. Not just for Espinosa, not just for Guy Fieri. I think it’s gonna give a nice boost. And a lot of people at The Great Smoke that we were just at on Saturday, a lot of other manufacturers were saying that to me; “This guy’s good for the industry.” Like he got up on stage and he spoke, he knows what he’s talking about. He’s been smoking cigars since the ’90s. This is something he’s wanted to do for a long time. But it’s tobacco, his people were like, don’t get into that now, don’t get into that now. And now he feels like he’s big enough that he’s gonna do it.
– And I can tell you, I was at the Diners Drive-ins and Dives SOBE Food and Wine Festival event. And there wasn’t a moment while he was working the crowd and talking to the people and taking pictures that he did not have a Knuckle Sandwich Cigar in his mouth. That guy is smoking. I went back and the guy I worked for, I worked with Hector Alfonso, I told him the next day, I said, “Me and you smoke a lot of cigars in a day. We might not be catching up to Guy Fieri.”
– [Rob] Really?
– I mean, that guy never had. He’s just one step short of lighting the next one with the nub of the one he’s finishing.
– He’s kissing the other one and lighting.
– This guy’s all about cigars. He used to hang out at Churchill’s in San Diego in the early ’90s. I mean, this guy is… When nobody knew who he was. So this guy’s all in. By the way, I brought you guys autographed Guy Fieri T-shirts.
– Oh my gosh! Thank you so much.
– There’s a large for you, mine looks like a small.
– What size are you?
– I’m a small. You got sh-medium? You got a hot sh-medium in there?
– We didn’t make them for kids. We didn’t have it made for kids. But just wash it a lot.
– This is awesome.
– Guy came by the office and signed a thousand of these. He autographed every T-shirt.
– That is so cool.
– Thank you very much.
– The day I was telling you about, that afternoon, him and Eric went visited a few shops, he came back and he said, “Oh, there’s boxes of T-shirts.” And he said, “Eric, why don’t I sign all these T-shirts?” And Eric’s like there’s a thousand T-shirts. He goes, “All right.”
– That’s what I do.
– He just sat there and signed and signed and signed and signed.
– Why do you think he’s a little bit better than maybe like an athlete more popular or something? Is it a different reach because it’s not niche, niche, niche into sports?
– I mean, dude, the guy is a master communicator. He is engaging. There is so much about Guy that is, you never hear him stumbling over words. That guy always has the right thing to say. I sit there and he had a back VIP section where me and my wife were hanging out during that Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. And he’s Guy Fieri in the public eye, he’s got to be on it. And when he goes back there, he’s kind of more laid back. But this guy’s engaging to everybody. I mean, a guy stopped his car when they were visiting shops him and Eric, and stops his car in the middle of the road and gets out and says, “Oh my God, my daughter loves you.” And he said, “Get her on FaceTime.” And he spoke to her for like five minutes, this girl crying on the phone. I mean, this guy’s engaging.
– That’s awesome. What a cool thing!
– He did an interview with Michael Herklots at The Great Smoke. If you watched that interview, the guy knows what he’s talking about. The guy knows this is not some athlete or some other celebrity that came to a cigar company and said put my name on a cigar.
– So how did Eric get connected with him?
– So him and Eric have been close for a few years. And they’ve always talked about it. And Eric in the beginning told him, “No dude, you don’t want a cigar, you don’t wanna do a cigar.” But they kept talking about it and talking about it. And for the past 18 months, because of COVID and because of the limited time we could go to Nicaragua and the pain in the ass that it is to go there, we kind of were doing Zoom blending. Like we would create, he would give input on the blend, Hector would create something, and we’d send out for like 10 different samples along those lines. And it took quite a while to get something that he went, “This is it, this is the…” So he was heavily involved in selecting the final blends for this.
– Well, you’re no stranger to the tobacco industry. Your family goes way back. Your uncle.
– Well, my uncle and my father are the ones that fled Cuba in 1959.
– [Rob] Wow!
– And then my uncle passed away in the Dominican Republic in ’70. My dad died in ’74. And then Carlos Toraño who, may he rest in peace, just passed away a few weeks ago.
– [Rob] I am sorry to hear that.
The ’70s and ’80s Were Not a Good Time for Cigars
– He took over. And he kind of persevered through a time where you couldn’t give away cigars. The ’70s and the ’80s were not a good time for cigars. And he kept the business alive and the name Toraño alive long enough, so that I can be doing what I was doing, his son could be doing what he was doing until the boom of the ’90s. But he struggled a lot. And we owe him a lot. And we just had a real nice memorial for him on Sunday.
– That’s good. Got to see extended family and-
– Yeah. So me, myself, I’ve been in and out of this industry for about 35 years.
– In and out? When you go out, what do you do?
– I worked at a music house in Chicago with my brother.
– Oh my God, this is what I know. So, your brother is a famous producer.
– Sort of, yes.
– Sort of? Dude, you’re downplaying it. I love you.
– [Jack] So, yeah.
– Sam Leccia told me he’s famous.
Niteflyte, Average White Band and The Rolling Stones
– My brother had a band called Niteflyte in 1979 and ’80. And then members of Average White Band, members of, you know he’s good friends with Darryl Jones, the bass player for The Rolling Stones. Those people have played with him on different things. And we used to use them for commercials. So, I mean, the claim to fame of the music house was we wrote and did the campaign for “Real Men of Genius”.
Remember “Real Men of Genius”?
– Yeah, the Bud Light.
– [Jack] Bud Light “Real Men of Genius”.
– What is the jingle, what is the thing?
– [Jack] What do you mean?
– What is the “Real Men of Genius”?
– The Real Men of Genius, well, started out as real American heroes. And it was a campaign created by DDB Chicago. And they came and my brother and another composer wrote the song, we hired Pete Stacker and Dave Bickler from Survivor to do the things. And if you haven’t, I don’t know, if you’ve heard them, they ran for 13 years. It’s a legendary radio. I’ve heard that college courses and advertising. They teach the “Real Men of Genius”. So it was an insane campaign. And today we salute you Mr. Way Too Much Cologne Wearer, and all those different ones.
– It’s like picking on somebody in a nice way.
– We did about 250 of them. And I think only about 110 of them saw the light of a radio station. But there was some classics in there. Yeah, we had a lot of fun doing that campaign. Like I said, go back to the ’80s, I was selling leaf tobacco here on Eighth Street with my grandfather.
The Nicaraguan Traveling Circus of Little People
– But although, Sam, you and Sam were in Nicaragua together. Sam Leccia of NUb.
– [Jack] Sam Leccia.
– You guys are in Nicaragua together, you’re at a hotel, right?
– [Jack] Yeah.
– And there’s a lot of commotion going on outside.
– So Sam doesn’t speak Spanish.
– We’re staying at this hotel. We basically have the hotel to ourselves.
– It was empty. It was empty. So, every night we’d grab dinner. The woman that ran the hotel, that ran the front desk, would run the restaurant and ran everything. And the first day, I gave her a $20 American tip. This woman was, whatever we wanted, you know, it was half a week’s salary. And every night we’d sit there, have dinner before whatever we were gonna do. And there would be behind the hotel, it sounded like there was a like a nightclub or a discotheque. And we’re in a neighborhood. It didn’t make any sense to us.
– [Rob] Like, what’s going on?
– So the first night this happens, the second night. The third night, which is our last night there, I said to her in Spanish, “What’s going on back there?” And she says, she tells me in Spanish that the midget circus is in town.
– The midget circus. To be politically correct, that’s little people.
– The little people, but that’s what they call it.
– Yeah they called it the midget circus.
– Yeah. They’re not as politically correct in Nicaragua.
– But we mean no harm, no disrespect by that.
– No harm, no disrespect. I got many little people that are good friends of mine.
– Anyways, I’m like, “Sam, we gotta finish this food and get up and go.”
– You said you were in like, you’re like, “Hurry up and finish, tonight is the last night.”
– Tonight’s the last night. No, no, it wasn’t the last night.
– [Rob] Oh, it wasn’t.
– But they were already in the first… You know there’s two act.
– First act.
– They were already in the first act. So I said, “You got to hurry up.” And he’s like, “What, what’s going on?” And I said, “Sam, that music’s coming from a midget circus.” And Sam’s like, just Sam chows down and he’s like all in. And then we go there, and they’re like it’s like a dollar to get in. And then there’s like 10 or 12 kids that are trying to peek under. We paid for all the kids.
– You paid for all the kids?
– Yeah, yeah. We bought them popcorn.
– Sam said that. So all these kids, imagine like 20 neighborhood kids wanting to get in the show, but they can’t cover the fare because they’re poor, and they’re trying to look through cracks and see what the entertainment is. You paid for all of them, buy them popcorn, and they were happier than happy. They were not only happier than happier. I think, even though I spoke Spanish to them, I think they for some reason thought we had purchased them or something. Like they sat with us, they wouldn’t leave our side. If we go in and this place is hat, probably a quarter full. This big top and all the kids sit all around us.
– How much fun though to be surrounded by kids with youthful eyes?
– Oh, yeah, yeah.
– To look at the circus, now you’re looking at the circus through their lens.
– I don’t even remember the kids because I was so mesmerized by what was happening. It was the most insane thing. There was one little play, I guess, segment of it that this little person, first this really pretty woman walks out, really nicely dressed. And then they’re playing a love song. And apparently that love song is to win your heart back. He wants to win back her heart. She has dumped him. So this little person comes out with flowers begging her to come back. This is what this consisted of. Every time he got within a foot of her, she hit him. She would beat him. And then he would go to the ground and this would play out again for the length of this four or five minutes song. That was the whole skit.
– That’s it?
– And then at one point, she comes by us and gets a look at Sam and starts flirting with Sam. So the little person wants to beat up Sam. This is all part of the whole play. The next one, that same little person gets brought out, they hang him from a rope from the center of the big top, they roll him up, roll him up, roll him up, and then let them go. And then they roll him up, roll him up. That’s all it was. It was kind of things like that. And then Sam and I were, this is the greatest thing we’ve ever seen. This was fantastic. And then the next day, the next morning Jonathan Drew had invited us with Nick Melillo. They had just opened up their new factory. It wasn’t even open yet, but it was built. He wanted to show us. So he sent a car to pick us up like at 8:30 in the morning. We had to leave to… Where the hell were we going? We had to get out of there, we had a flight. So we had to leave at three o’clock. And Jonathan Drew, the car comes takes us and takes us over there. So during the course of him showing us everything, we tell him, it’s their national sales meeting, everybody’s down there. And we tell Jonathan Drew about the midget circus. And Jonathan Drew goes, “Are you kidding?” And me and Sam are like, “It’s the greatest thing you’ve ever seen.” So when he goes to the meeting, he buys tickets and takes the entire team to the midget circus that night. And half of the team was like me and Sam, and the other half was like, what in the world is this? And every time there’s a lot of them that I still see that are like, it was your fault, it’s Sam Lucia’s fault that we ended up having to go through that midget circus.
– And some liked it and some didn’t.
Blending Sam Leccia’s Luchador Cigar
– What didn’t you like about it, it was fantastic. It was fantastic. So we we had a really good time. We went there to finish the the blend for Sam Leccia Luchador Cigar. We went there to finish that blend. And the funny quick story about that was we show up at the factory at American Caribbean who was doing the blend, and we walk in the door like it’s 7:30 in the morning, and Damian who runs the factory, he lives here, who owns a factory says, “Sam, I have the blend for you.” And he gives Sam the blend. And we both smoke and we’re like this is really good. And Sam starts, “All right, but can we tweak it?” So Sam tweaks this thing like 30 times. And at four o’clock in the afternoon, looks at Damian and says, “I think it’s the first one.” And I’m looking at him. After you smoke maybe half an inch of these test blends that that Sam is tweaking. But think about it, half an inch times 30 is a 15 inch cigar.
– [Rob] Right, yeah.
– So by the fifth one, I’m like, “Sam, what do you think of this one? I think it tastes just like the last one and the one before,” because the changes were minimal.
– But could Sam really tell?
– I think he can. I think Sam’s got a real good palate.
– That’s awesome.
– I think he does.
– I think I’m a little bit more like you. I’m like, it’s good, I don’t know if it’s much different.
– We were all really happy when he went back to the original. Because the original was the first cigar we smoked that day and it was fantastic. Damian wanted to kill him. Yeah.
– We were really happy that he went back to the original, but we also wanted to ring his neck because he just put us through torture.
– Their face on tweak number 16, they would look at me and say something bad about Sam in Spanish and then go tweak the cigar. I think at some point they were just bringing back the same damn cigar.
– Yeah. Oh yeah, we tweaked it, yeah, yeah, yeah.
– But it was a lot of fun.
– A little more seco in there. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
– I love Sammy. Sammy’s a good guy.
– Yeah, you guys, you’re just a happy-go-lucky guy in general. Every time I see you, you’re happy and smiling.
– If you cannot be happy in this industry, you’re doomed, you’re doomed.
– I know. That’s what I’m thinking. I’m like man, I get paid to interview people like you to help Boveda to sell more Boveda, so that more people can protect their passion. What’s not to like about this?
– But I see the opportunity to see and interact with the customer. Why not? Why not let them fanboy out? They love your brand, they come up to your booth–
– The trade show, I mean we got two significant trade shows now with the TPE and the PCA. But the trade shows are one time a year or two times a year now where the retailers come to us. How do you not love that?
– I mean, I spend my life, next week I’m in Dallas, a week after I’m in Phoenix.
– How many days a year are you traveling? 200?
– I don’t know if it adds up to 200. I tried. Before COVID, I was on the road the better part of… Usually it’s Tuesday to Friday or maybe Wednesday to Sunday depending on it is doing events. But before COVID, it was three weeks of the month. An I was with General most of the time back then. And now I’m kind of at two weeks.
– [Rob] Two weeks in a month?
– I travel. I got two weeks in a row now, then I’m back for a week, and I got one week out that I’m two weeks at home. But my off week. So I got Dallas next week, Phoenix a week after that, and then I come back to our big extravaganza, La Zona Palooza where we invite a couple 100 people. So that’s my home week. So I think I’d rather be traveling.
– [Rob] Yeah, right. You’re from Miami, right?
– I am born in Miami, made in Cuba.
– Made in Cuba, born in Miami.
– Made in Cuba, born in Miami.
Roadtripping with Sam Leccia
– So Miami driving, the first day I was here, I was with Lorenzo, Rainier Lorenzo. I call him Lorenzo, I don’t know why. And he was telling me Miami driving is a little bit different, it’s a little more aggressive. And on our way back, a car in front of us got into an accident. Like a car was trying to come through the traffic that was very thick at a stop light, and another car came flying on out the outside, bam! And I’m like, yep. And he goes, see what I said about the traffic. So, Miami traffic is fast-paced traffic. And now you go with Sam Leccia back to Philadelphia PA,
– Pittsburgh, sorry Sam. He’s like, I hate it when people say I’m in Philly. I’m on the other side, Pittsburgh. And they have the tolls, and they don’t have the SunPass.
– Sorry, he doesn’t have the SunPass.
– But they have something, don’t they?
– They do have a pass, but he doesn’t have it.
– And he’s driving a Hummer H2. So he’s got to slow way down, and you’re like, “Sam, what are we doing?” “We’re slowing down and paying with cash, I’m buying you a pass.”
– That was me.
– Yeah, you did. You bought him a pass, but what does Sam do? He still slows down.
– And you’re like yelling at him, like, “Go, you got the pass.”
– He was driving me. We started in Pittsburgh and we did events. The funny thing about that trip was we had events just outside of Pittsburgh on day one. Then we went to Harrisburg Beer N Cigar, I think we had an event there. And we worked our way until we finished in Staten Island. So I remember telling Sam, “Listen, where are we gonna be each night? Do we wanna finish the event and then drive as far as we can to the next event and then get a hotel, or do you wanna stay in the town?” Sam’s like, “Don’t worry about it, we’ll get a hotel on the road as we go.” I’m like, “All right, no problem.” I’d never done it like that, but no problem. Sam says that’s the way to do it. So we finished that first night’s event, we hit the road, and I start calling hotels. We’re booked, we’re booked, we’re booked. And I’m looking at Sam.
– You’re gonna be sleeping in his Hummer.
– The fifth hotel I call, I said, “What is going on that every hotel is booked?” And the woman says, “Honey, it’s the U.S. Open.” The U.S. Open golf tournament was in town. So every hotel is booked. We ended up at some America’s Most Comfort. I don’t know what it was. It was frightening. It was frightening. They had a warning, like a sign warning you about don’t squish stink bugs.
– Don’t squish stink bugs.
– Apparently there’s an insect called a stink bug. And if you squish them and kill them, your room smells awful. Like if you see one… Luckily I didn’t even see one.
– What does it smell like, though?
– It looks like a cricket, I don’t know.
– You don’t know because you guys-
– I don’t know, I didn’t wanna ask, but I know at the front desk, I’m like, where are we dude? What is this stink bug?
– Can’t you fumigate for those or something?
– Yeah, yeah, yeah. So luckily we didn’t see any and we didn’t have to run the risk of squishing one. But what if I accidentally squished one? What’s happening? So that was an adventurous trip. We ended up at Staten Island, did a really good event. Got Cigar Vault down there. And I remember I think Sam and I ate at Pat’s Pizza. Sam is a two entree guy. Sam orders-
– Yeah, he orders two of everything. So he orders a giant pizza, and then like lasagna or spaghetti and meatballs. He eats a little of both and then packs them up and he put them in the Hummer. And he called me like a month later, guess what I found in the Hummer? He forgot they were there.
DJing on NYE in the Viagra Triangle
– Oh my God. A month later, how did he not notice the smell? That bad, huh? You also did some DJing.
– I did in the ’80s here.
– Here in Miami. I did a little bit in Chicago, but I would only really do New Year’s Eve. I was hired, there’s a place called Tavern On Rush in the Viagra Triangle over there in Chicago.
– What’s the Viagra Triangle?
– It’s rush street. Rush division, there’s like a triangle there. And it used to have Jilly’s, Gibsons is still there, Tavern On Rush, Carmine’s, all these nice restaurants. And it’s known for the 60, 70 year olds trolling the 25 year olds. So they call it the Viagra Triangle. And they’ve Ferraris and Maseratis. So that Tavern On Rush, the manager was a good friend of mine. He said, “Dude, you used to DJ.” And we had all this equipment at the recording studio. And he says, “Can you DJ New Year’s Eve? We’ll pay you $1,000.” And I’m like absolutely. And that lasted 10 years. For 10 years, I would go DJ that party, they’d give me $1,000 in cash, plus whatever I wouldn’t spend going out on New Year’s Eve. Was a win-win. It was a good time. But here in the ’80s, there was a place called China Club. I DJ there a couple nights. I did DJ to Woody’s on the Beach, Ronnie Woods’ place.
– So what makes a good DJ?
– The crowd. You gotta keep the crowd moving.
– Okay, so are you the type of DJ that plays enough of the song to get the crowd going, but then flips to the next one?
– [Jack] No.
– You play the whole song?
– Yeah, yeah, for the most part. I hate DJs that do that. I just went to a wedding-
– Why? What if the song kind of fizzles out and you get tired of it?
– That’s a different story. If the song is kind of fizzling out and run its course. But I was at a wedding recently, and he would play a really cool ’80s song or a real cool ’70s funk song, and the crowd would go crazy, and by the time somebody got to the dance floor, it was some other song.
– Oh no, you can’t do that, you got to read the crowd.
– [Jack] Yeah, you gotta read the crowd.
– If the crowd is jamming on the song and then all of a sudden it’s like, okay.
– You can tell when they’re tiring out.
– And then it’s like, all right, switch it out.
– Of a club DJ reading the crowd is the most important. A lot of DJs don’t give a crap.
– Yeah, a lot of DJs don’t give a crap. You’re gonna dance to what I play, and don’t give me a napkin with a request because I’m not gonna play it. I wasn’t like that.
– You take requests.
– Whatever you want to hear, I don’t give a shit.
– What was the most important thing to read the crowd and know when to transition? Like what’s the DJ recipe like?
– I’m sure it’s different now with EDM and some of the other music that they’re playing in clubs. I mean, but listen, I was playing rock and roll clubs.
– [Rob] Rock and roll.
– So I was playing in China Club, Woody’s, a little bit of… Kitchen Club was kind of punkish, kind of alternative. It wasn’t rock, it was The Clash, it was bands like that back then.
– [Rob] Okay.
– So for the most part in those places, you’d play the whole song. Now every once while, you’d have disco night or something, and you had to mix. But you as long as you keep it popular, and as you DJ, you know what songs fill a dance floor, what songs kill a dance floor, you kind of learn that rhythm. I couldn’t even tell you now. Now we have New Year’s Eve parties at my house, and I’ll try to create a playlist so that it just plays on the thing, and it’s tough figuring out what anybody’s into. Now because I’m playing a lot of ’70s and ’80s and beyond. Certainly I’m not an EDM guy.
– Right. But back in the ’80s, were you flipping records?
– Records, yeah. It was all vinyl.
– Everything was records.
– [Jack] Everything was vinyl.
– How much equipment did you have to bring in?
– Oh my God, I’d bring three or four milk crates full of records to every gig. Yeah, yeah, yeah. That was a load.
– And how many turntables? Just two?
– It was two, Technics 1200s. Like that was all set up at the club. Every club had their DJ booth.
– Oh so you didn’t have to bring the equipment, you had to bring the music.
– I had to bring the music.
– So that was a fun time in your life.
– It was. Listen, I’ve had a really good life. I’ve had a lot of fun, I’ve done different things, lived in Miami in the ’80s, which was crazy. There was a lot of fun going on here.
– [Rob] A lot of Narco stuff going on.
– Oh my God, yeah, yeah. The stuff you see on Narco now, I lived it. Right across the street, Dadeland Mall. There was a big gangland Narco shooting in ’79. It happened at this side of the mall, we were on the other side of the mall. And all of a sudden, they were getting everybody out of there. And all it was, they were assassinating somebody at a Cozzoli’s Pizza. If you look it up right there. And we happened to be in the mall as 19 or 18 year olds.
– Did you ever feel fear for your life or think no, this was just kind of like target hits.
– [Jack] Target hit.
– It’s not spray and scatter and like-
– [Jack] Yeah, no, no.
– Create chaos.
– Not the craziness that happens today.
– It hey, this guy’s taking my money, I got him out.
– Take that guy out and they take that guy out. There was very little collateral damage.
– You never sat at the table with your fingers underneath it in case you had to flip it?
– No, no, no, no, no. It was very Godfather. When he comes out of the bathroom and he shoots his guy.
– That’s it.
– Drops the gun and leaves.
– So now, working with Espinosa.
“You bought a brand called Toraño Family Cigars and there’s no family.”
– Fantastic. Fantastic. I mean, in 2014, when my cousin sold Toraño Cigars, oddly enough that day we were… The one thing that was always missing from Toraño’s portfolio was a strong cigar, a real strong full-bodied cigar. So we we were collaborating with Espinosa to create a full-bodied cigar. And then the company gets sold the day that Eric and Hector are coming for the final blending. They were bringing test cigars. So my first phone call was to call Eric and say, “Don’t come to the office today. All hell has broken loose here, don’t come to the office.” So when I went home that day, I talked to Eric. I’d always known him, we weren’t really close, but whatever it is, Eric has it. And I knew I wanted to work for Eric one day. And I told him and he said, he was like, I think he thought I was asking him for a job. And I’m like, “I’m not asking you for a job right now.” Because he’s like, “Jack, I wish I could hire you, I can’t afford you.” But we started three years ago.
– Okay, so when you got let go from General, you called him and he’s like, “I can’t give you a job right now.”
– No, no, no, no. This is Toraño. This is the family in 2014.
– [Rob] 2014.
– 2014, my cousin Charlie sold the brand to General.
– [Rob] Okay.
– So basically, we were all out of a job. That day, I talked to Eric. And that day Eric said, “I can’t afford you.”
– And General had not extended an invitation to keep you on, so you had no idea.
– [Jack] No, no.
– What’s gonna go on?
– What’s going to happen? I actually went to work for a sub-boutique company for Duran Cigars for 19 months, all the time pitching myself to General. Telling General, “You bought a brand called Toraño Family Cigars and there’s no family.”
– [Rob] And my name.
– You need me. And finally when they changed presidents and the new president came in, Regis, I ran into him at C. Fest in the Poconos.
– [Rob] Yeah, yeah. CigarsFest.
– And when I told him I was interested, he was like, “You wanna come back and work for the brand?” And I was like, I felt like going, where have you been? There’s like an email trail begging to be hired.
– Would you like to see-
– Yeah, would you like to see my interest? And two weeks later, I was hired by General. So this is 2016. And I’m off to work with General on the Toraño brand for three years. But you could kind of see, when they purchased CAO, CAO was purchased by STG, and then kind of lumped in with General. And they were creating innovation. They had Rick Rodriguez doing things. There was a lot of things happening with CAO, that stuff wasn’t happening with Toraño.
– They weren’t interested.
– They weren’t really interested in…
– Why is that?
– They didn’t have the warm and fuzzies for the brand, for whatever reason it was. So kind of everything we would pitch wouldn’t get done. I don’t know if you remember the vault, but they created these different color Camacho-esque vault boxes; red, purple, green, all these different boxes. And it was a bargain cigar which did great in rebuilding the foundation of Toraño, because Toraño took a hit at retail when my cousin sold it. So this rebuilt the foundation, but now you got to build the house. And there was nothing being done. So in my third year, I’m still out there doing vault events. Like there’s no innovation. So I could kind of see the writing on the wall, and our year kind of starts winding down in November as the holidays approach, and I only had one trip scheduled left. So I started hanging out with Eric. And Eric was like, I thought they were gonna fire me. And he says, “If you think they’re gonna fire you, why don’t you quit?” I said I can’t. I got to make it to the end because I get a bonus. I gotta push it as far as it is. And Eric said, “I’ll tell you what? If they let you go, I can wait till January 1st.” January 1st, 2019, to make my decision, but I need to hire a national sales director. Job is yours, your decision until January 1st. After that… And I said, “Well, that’s not a problem. I’ll know by then if they’re keeping me or not keeping me.” And I remember Eric and I were hanging out, we had already discussed compensation, everything.
– You’re like making the move without making the move.
– You’re planning.
The Beginning of the End With General
– I’m basically, if General lets me go, I’m not out of a job, basically. So, they contact me and they wanna fly me up to Virginia for these innovation meetings, with the other branch, Sean Williams, Laurel, Tilly, Ricky, and then all the marketing guys and all that. And I’m like all right. Let’s see where this goes. And we had a real nice dinner the first night. And the second night, the second morning the innovation meeting starts at 8:30 in the morning. And one of the VP said, the last thing he said to me the night before was, “Hey, let’s you and I chat before the meeting.” And I said, “All right.” But everything, it was such a kumbaya moment that I thought it’s not a problem. And at 8:15 in the morning, he’s like, “We’re letting you go.” And it was heartbreaking, but in my mind I’m like, all right I got the job. I’m going to work for Eric who I’ve wanted to work for for years. I’m gonna be fine.
– Yeah, yeah, yeah. But still inside-
– But it was like I wanted to give… The funny story and listen all the people in General, even the guy that fired me we’re good friends, to this day. Even though I told him off, I called them two weeks later to apologize. We’re good friends because not only did they choose that day to let me go, but going on in General’s office that day was the ugly sweater contest and the cookie bake off, the Christmas cookie bake off. So I’m dealing with all these employees that are in a really festive mood and carrying their cookies in and I’ve been shit-canned. So it was like, God, you guys couldn’t have picked a better day to let me go?
– Were you glad? Did they wanna do it in-person, or would you rather have liked it over the phone? Oh, they do?
– They will either fly somebody to you or fly you there.
– They fly you there.
– Yeah, I know some of the reps that have been let go, they basically, hey, meet us at this hotel in the town you work in, and they take your car, they take… It’s something that has to be done in-person. It’s a publicly traded company. They have their protocol and processing.
– So it wasn’t like, we wanna fly you out here just to let you down?
– [Jack] No, no, no, no.
– We have to do it because of policy.
– Got it.
– They had this whole program where everybody was nervous because it was called Fueling the Growth, where they were going to downsize employees in order to strengthen the company. So they nicknamed this Fueling the Growth. And all this came to fruition the week of Thanksgiving. Wow!
– Great fuel. I’m sure you were fueling.
– Fueling the Growth unless you’re part of the fuel that they’re using to grow.
– [Rob] To set it on fire.
– So that came and went, and I made the cut. I was like, all right, I’m good.
– But you knew about Fueling the Growth before you got fired?
– Oh yeah, everybody did. Everybody was terrified at General. Nobody wanted to be called into an office the week of Thanksgiving.
– So they let everyone know we got to do this Fueling the Growth, we have to let people go, but we’re not naming any names.
– That was the process.
– What an horrible process, everyone is living in fear.
– And then like two weeks before, since nobody had heard anything, they said, “The announcements will come the week of Thanksgiving.” And you’re like holy shit. Or the week after Thanksgiving. The week after Thanksgiving. And you’re like, damn!
– I don’t think that would be very good. I don’t think that’d be my best Thanksgiving. I’d be like, what are you thankful for? I don’t know. I may or may not have a job in a week.
– But listen, wait, at that time, a lot of people I loved working with lost their job. But there I am. There’s the the chart and I’m on the chart. And I’m like, holy shit, I made it. I was like, that was for sure.
– But you made it what you made it through, like you-
– I made it through. I made what they said, if you are on the Fueling the Growth chart, you’re part of General.
– That must have been a mistake. Did they do a fat finger and type in Toraño?
Creating Warzone Cigar With Espinosa and General
– No, they didn’t. Listen, to their credit, they wanted to keep me on board until the last day of the year. Listen, General treated me, I can’t complain about anything. Like I said, we’re great friends to this day. But dude, they treated me incredibly. And Justin Andrews who was my senior brand manager, a guy runs Diesel. Justin and I had been… About six months earlier, they talked to Justin about collabor… Select some companies, smaller boutique companies to collaborate with. So Justin came to me and we started talking. And I said listen, RomaCraft, Crown Heads, Espinosa, you got to consider Espinosa. These are the kind of companies you should be looking at. Well, the moment I left and went to Espinosa, Espinosa moved to the top of that list and we collaborated immediately on the cigar Warzone that was the number 13 Cigar of the Year in Cigar Aficionado.
– So a lot of people will say to me, “Dude, how pissed off are you at General or whatever?” I’m saying, “Dude, listen we have a great relationship. If we didn’t, you think they would have collaborated with the company I went.”
– Right, right, right. We knew you went to Espinosa, we knew great, moving to the top of the list.
– Even the guy that let me go, you think he’s the VP of marketing, you think if he would have said, fuck, screw Jack Toraño, we’re not gonna do anything with the company he went to. No, it was open arms and we collaborated and they came to the office.
– He’s very amicable.
– Very amicable.
– So what’s next for Jack Toraño?
– It’s gonna be a crazy year. We’re in this Guy Fieri craziness of Knuckle Sandwich. I’ve been in this industry a long time, I’ve never been a part of a pre-release like this. We pre-sold nearly 6,000 boxes. And then the shipping has been insane. This cigar going out, the the reception it’s been getting out there. And it’ll only grow with Guy doing events. So that’s gonna consume most of our year.
– I’m smoking the Habano.
– You’re smoking the Habano. You got the Maduro there.
– You got the Maduro.
– I love Habano wrappers.
– As does Eric.
– This is great. Sweet, good. It’s got the strength that I would expect from Espinoza. What about the Maduro?
– Maduro got a little more strength.
– More strength.
– A little more strength. Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper, beautiful wrapper. Some really nice aged Nicaraguan tobacco in it. I mean, I don’t know which one, depending on the time of day. To me earlier, lunchtime, I prefer the Habano. But I’ve been bouncing back and forth. A little later in the evening, I’ll prefer the Maduro.
– Are you a type of smoker that likes to smoke something stronger later in the day?
– Yes. Every morning I start with a Connecticut. I sit in my backyard, I answer emails, I have coffee at like 7:30 in the morning.
– And what, Connecticut?
– It used to be Casa Toraño.
– Which is one of the mildest of Connecticuts ever on the market.
– It was like smoking air.
– Then why smoke it?
– Because it’s a wonderful taste.
– Air has a wonderful taste.
A Good Morning Cigar is the Espinosa Crema
– Air has a wonderful taste. And then I transitioned to Crema, Espinosa Crema, sits a little bit more to the medium side in terms of a Connecticut. A lot more flavor, a lot more complexity.
– Which one is this?
– The Crema.
– The Crema.
– It’s right behind me on the wall.
– Yeah, yeah, yeah.
– The Crema. And it took a little bit of time to get used to it because I’d never experienced that amount of flavor in a Connecticut.
– [Rob] Okay.
– The Crema put out a little, We put out a little corona size, which is perfect when I’m traveling and visiting stores, the little corona is fantastic. I depleted the inventory of coronas pretty quickly at Espinosa. But Eric gave me a bunch of shit for this.
– Yeah, this is gonna say Eric’s like, where are all the coronas going? Jack Toraño, Jack Toraño, Jack Toraño.
– Why is corona on backorder?
– Yeah. And Jack has 16 boxes this month alone.
– So we’re gearing up for the trade show. We got the PCA.
– Anything new coming?
– [Jack] Uh?
– Anything new coming or?
– Like five new blends.
– [Rob] Five?
– We have 601 Black, which is a full-bodied Connecticut. We’re gonna release every year in a different vitola. Last year was a Toro, Box Press Toro, this year we’re doing a Fat Robusto. It’ll change just like the Warhead series. We have the new Warhead 8 coming out. We have the Espinosa 10-year Anniversary Cigar. Las 6 Provincias, which is the tribute to the original six providences of Cuba. They have the latest one in there. And then I’m missing one. I’m missing one. Yesterday I was counting ’em out, we have at least five coming out.
– Awesome, good stuff coming in the next few months.
– Good stuff coming. We we will have Guy Fieri one of the days at the PCA. So that’s going to create a lot of craziness. We’re planning a-
– Maybe we could get Guy to sit down at the Boveda Booth.
– We might be able to. We might be able to. We’re gonna have a party.
– We’re gonna have a party where Guy will be a big part of.
Who are the Biggest Partiers in the Cigar Biz?
– Who are the partiers in the cigar biz? If you’re gonna list your top three partiers of all the manufacturers in the biz, name them.
– You mean as a company or as a person?
– Number one, two and three is Juan Lopez from Gurkha.
– Juan Lopez from Gurkha, yes. Okay, one, two and three. Okay, after that, who’s four and five?
– I don’t know, Terence Reilly’s doing really good lately.
– Terence Reilly.
– Terence likes stuff.
– And Terence is with?
– Terence Reilly?
– [Jack] Terence Reilly.
– The guy in the Dockers and the polo shirt.
– Yeah, yeah.
– Jake from State Farm.
– Jake from State Farm.
– Jake from State Farm. Likes to throw down-
– I’ve never seen this side of Terence Reilly.
– A few people have, a few people have.
– And you say he’s number two.
– No, no. I just said lately. Lately he’s like, you know how the music charts, you used to have a bullet every where.
– [Rob] Okay, he’s on the top.
– Terence Reilly has a bullet, he’s moving up.
– Okay, who else?
– I don’t know, I don’t know. I mean, at Espinosa, I’m not that. I lived that life earlier. So, I don’t even drink at events.
– [Rob] You quit drinking?
– I don’t know.
– Well, Skip Martin’s up there for me.
– [Jack] Skip doesn’t party.
– Yeah, he does.
– Skips sits in a house in San Juan del Sur and stares at his pool. I think Skip’s retired.
– No, he’s not.
– I am messing with him. I am messing with Skip.
– Oh man, you guys.
– Javi Carranza, that guy’s a partier right there. That’s a partier right there. He’s asked me who the top three partiers are in the cigar industry.
– He said Juan Lopez. Juani, you got a reputation, brother. All right, we know it.
– From Jack himself and as well as the crowd, we got Juan Lopez, that’s all we need to know. Jack, I wanna say thank you for sitting down and making the time. I appreciate it, this was great. Everyone gets a little taste of the Toraño Family. Now you’re with Espinosa, we couldn’t be more happier.
– I couldn’t be more happier. Rob, thank you so much.
– Thank you, man.
– Thank you.
– Appreciate it. That’s another episode of Box Press. I’m in Miami with jack Jack Toraño.
– Empire. At Empire Dadeland.
– [Rob] At Empire Dadeland.
– [Jack] Beautiful. My locker is right there.
– Beautiful place. We’ll get some B-roll in the locker. If you need to keep your cigars fresh, you know how to do it. It’s Boveda inside every humidor. We protect your passion. Thank you so much for watching us. Cheers!
Highlights from this cigar podcast include:
- 02:25 New cigar trend? Celebrities endorsing cigars again?
- 05:06 When it comes to cigars, is Guy Fieri the real deal?
- 10:23 The ’70s and ’80s were not a good time for cigars—discuss
- 11:15 Oddest mixed tape ever—Niteflyte, Average White Band, The Rolling Stones and Survivor?!
- 11:32 Remember “Real Men of Genius”? “Real Men of Genius” Mr. Way too Much Cologne Wearer
- 12:47 Stogiebird’s Sam Leccia and a traveling act of little people in Nicaragua
- 17:15 Jonathan Drew and Nick Melillo take a cigar national sales meeting to the circus
- 18:34 Blending Sam Leccia’s Luchador Cigar
- 26:24 DJing on NYE in the Viagra Triangle
- 27:45 What makes a good DJ?
- 33:42 “You bought a brand called Toraño Family Cigars and there’s no family.”
- 35:25 It’s always easier to find a job when you have a job
- 37:58 Axed from a company on Ugly Sweater Day
- 41:14 John joined Espinosa. General and Espinosa Cigars joined forces to release Warzone. Warzone was named Cigar Aficionado #13 Cigar of the Year for 2000!
- 45:07 Watch for 5 new releases from Espinosa Cigars
- 46:18 Who are the biggest partiers in the cigar biz?