Bryan White is doing what many cigar enthusiasts likely dream of: making his own cigars. His company, 13th Floor Cigars, is currently working with Willy Herrera of El Titan de Bronze and has released its initial line, the Foundation Series, an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapped cigar in three sizes.
He recently sat down for a conversation in the Shadows Lounge at the Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale, AZ.
So what is the elevator pitch that you’d give someone who wasn’t familiar with 13th Floor Cigars?
We’re a family-owned company with boutique cigars that are made in the US in Little Havana, focused on quality over quantity, and really driving towards the boutique and premium small batch market.
When you were looking at starting 13th Floor Cigars, who did you find yourself looking up to in the cigar business?
It was some of the guys that are in the same vibe we are, going after younger cigar smokers. So Dion from Illusione, of course Pete (Johnson, of Tatuaje) – just seeing what he’s done with all of the blends and all of the things he’s come out with. Then Kurt Kendall of 7-20-4, although we were already up and going before I had a chance to meet him. And then Willy (Herrera) of El Titan de Bronze – when I got a chance to meet him, I really thought it was the right match for me.
You were at the trade show last year but didn’t have a booth – have you started to think about how you’ll approach this year’s show?
Yes – I’ll be at the show, and while we won’t have anything elaborate, we’ll have a booth that will probably be similar to what Kurt Kendall had last year. When I saw his booth last year, I realized that’s what I was looking for – a couple display cases, one space. Hopefully we’ll have the next blends – the sumatra and the maduro, and we’ll go from there.
You took the idea of ‘I can do that’ and turned it into a real business – how did you transition from idea to reality?
It was being in shops and lounges and getting a feeling that we were on the cusp of another cigar boom, and starting to see that there was a whole younger market of cigar smokers that are looking for something that is going to be different than there father’s cigar. Not that we’re going to go do anything better than anyone else, we may just do things a bit differently. The first cigar we launched was a sumatra, and people said ‘no, you need to come out with a full bodied, powerhouse cigar with the market the way it is now.’
But what I wanted to do was create a cigar that really anyone can smoke – from someone who doesn’t smoke cigars, we can bring them in; and then those who smoke cigars all the time, and they will be interested – even if it isn’t the cigar they’ll smoke after a big steak dinner. It was trying how to hit a target market that I saw growing.
If there’s someone reading this interview who is thinking about getting into the cigar business similar to how you have, what would you tell them?
I think the first person I would tell them to check with is themselves. Not to be cliche, but the reason I got into this was a pure passion for cigars. If you don’t have that, there are plenty of other businesses, and plenty more lucrative businesses that you can start. You really need to follow your passion. If cigars are your passion, then absolutely explore it, go out and meet people at events, and do all those things.
That’s one thing I felt like I did right – I met people in the industry to understand if it was something I wanted to pursue. That’s the thing – if you go into it without passion for cigars, I would recommend you find something else.
It’s hard work and there’s a ton of competition – when you go into a retailer’s humidor and there’s 300 facings, how do you differentiate yourself? It’s a challenge.
For more on 13th Floor Cigars, visit their website – 13thFloorCigars.com.
Be sure to read this review of the 13th Floor Foundation Series cigar.