Owners of Artesano Del Tobacco: Gus and Billy Fakih
You guys launched the Viva La Vida brand in May of 2019 but although the brand is still quite new, you guys are experienced cigar industry veterans. Can you tell us how you got started in cigars?
GF: My brother and I have been in the industry for more than a quarter century, like almost 28 years, that’s how far we go back. But before we opened The Cigar Inn we had a store in downtown New York and that is a tourist area so we sold a lot of gift items to tourists, New York t-shirts and that kind of thing but even in that business we always had cigars. We used to smoke cigars in the store before the cigar boom. We didn’t have a walk-in humidor, the place was small but we always smoked cigars every day in that shop and it was a very successful business for us. Then we moved the location up to 70th Street on 1st Avenue, that was the first Cigar Inn, we did that in 1992. We were in that location for about 17 years. After that we opened one on 54th and 2nd Avenue and then one on 73rd and 2nd Avenue. The retail part of the cigar business taught us a great deal. We gained a lot of knowledge and experience being with the public on a daily basis. There is also a major factor that had an influence on us growing up. We came from a household where our father smoked cigars, he smoked pipes, and they were involved in certain things in that type of business back home and that did leave an impact on us. We did so many different types of retail before The Cigar Inn but then when the cigar boom happened, we said, “You know, what is the one thing that we love to do on a daily basis? It’s smoking cigars.” We enjoy it so much and when the cigar boom happened we thought, let’s ride the wave and we did that.
BF: And when we started we knew what cigars we liked, we knew what brands we enjoyed, but really it was the customer who told us a lot about different flavors, different wrappers and blends, and our knowledge of cigars and tobacco grew from that point. So our first teacher was our father but our second teacher was the customers. They played such a huge role in our life that we owe them a ton of respect and gratitude for what they helped us to achieve. Also magazines like Cigar Snob and so many others, they were like an encyclopedia for us and that is how we started.
It’s no secret that Viva La Vida has got some power to it. Would you say that it is a flavor and strength profile that is geared to the more experienced premium cigar smoker or do you think a novice can enjoy it also?
GF: When we developed the blend, our aim was to target everybody; there is no discrimination whatsoever. We want everyone to enjoy Viva La Vida, and to determine that we mapped it out, we had a huge table and we started to dissect the amount of people who smoke strong, light, and medium bodied cigars. We used this to determine what type of blend we were looking for.
BF: It was so important to have the majority of people enjoy the cigar so we combined the knowledge we gained from our clients with AJ Fernandez’s expertise. Together with AJ we worked tirelessly to come up with a blend that is full of flavor but is not spicy. A blend that has creaminess and sweet flavors with no bite or bad aftertaste and all of this comes from the great aged tobacco that AJ saved for us since 2012.
GF: I want to tell you about the cigar itself. It’s medium to full with all Nicaraguan tobacco. From my experience and the majority of the people we ask, you get sweet caramel right off the bat and also halfway through it starts to switch to a light to medium sweet spice. There are also hints of roasted almonds depending on which size you smoke. Each one will burn totally different and the flavors will change but all in all it is creamy with sweet caramel and it is a great and lovely Viva la Vida! Let’s live life!