Yesterday, Drew Estate founder Jonathan Drew visited ABC headquarters to give team members an idea of how Drew Estate came to be. Teeming with passion and amusing anecdotes, Drew imparted his story leaving the room amazed/surprised/fascinated (you pick the word, they’re all true). As a complete novice to the world of cigars, most of his story was news to me, but I’ll try to narrow my list of what I learned down to the 9 most interesting facts.
1. Drew is the son of an RN and an antique dealer.
“I spent the majority of my childhood at garage sales and antique shops and antique shows,” he said. “But one thing I learned about was the cultural side of antiques.” He understands the ins and outs of cigars from all aspects–historical, cultural, production, design, you name it.
2. He’s from New York.
As his accent will easily prove. He moved to Nicaragua to open his factory in 1998, only to be laughed at for being the only”gringo” around.
3. He started smoking cigars when he worked for a senator in DC.
He would buy the senators cigars and started smoking them, leading into his furious passion for the product.
4. He went to law school.
I’ll admit I couldn’t quite figure out his timeline–working for a senator in 1992, attending law school in New York, moving to Nicaragua, working as a salesman travelling throughout several states, stalking banks to get financial backing–but everything he did had an impact on the development of Drew Estate.
5. He believes his weaknesses helped build his company.
“You can take a weakness and complain about it or turn a weakness into an opportunity. But turning a weakness into a strength based on inexperience is a big gamble–it’s not the best way of going into a new business,” he said. But “that freshness factor, that really was something that had a huge impact on the industry.”
6. He trademarked “Rebirth of Cigars.”
“That meant a lot to me and it means a lot to me now,” he said. “It’s a philosophy, it’s an ethos.” He didn’t want to turn the cigar industry on its head. Instead, he wanted to bring something completely different to the market.
7. He slept on the floor of his factory for 14 years while he built his company.
He moved to the country while it was in complete turmoil. Most cigar guys would get in and get out. “I didn’t have any money to go back and forth, I had to live in the factory, so I did. I lived in the factory–not next to the factory–I lived in the factory for 14 years. 14 years. And because of that I have certain strengths that are very, very unique when it comes to the factory, when it comes to loyalty in the factory, when it comes to factory efficiencies…I shoot from a very, very unique angle.”
8. They sold the company and told everyone they weren’t changing. But that wasn’t necessarily true.
In November of last year Drew Estate was bought by Swisher, the largest cigar exporter, and the first impulse was for the guys at Drew Estate to tell people they weren’t changing. “I’ll tell you why that wasn’t true,” Drew said. “Drew Estate is always changing with or without Swisher.” And it works–the companies weren’t merged, Drew Estate simply got too big to finance alone. “We’re constantly changing, we’re changing everything. We’ve built 11 factories in the last 15-16 years…Everything about the company is actually changing and we’re listening, so the future? If our quality stays where it is now or better and the company doesn’t lose its soul…then I think the future is really bright.”
9. The Drew Estate Cigar Safari sounds incredible.
Seriously. Look it up.
Pick up your Drew Estate cigars, available at your local ABC!
Meghan Guarino, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits copywriter