Since Litto Gómez and Inés Lorenzo-Gómez founded La Flor Dominicana in the middle of the 1990s cigar boom, the company has laid claim to both a steady place in your neighborhood humidor and a reputation for unconventional, envelope-pushing products. They took a humble, slow-and-steady approach to building their brand. It’s paid off, and it now seems likely that the LFD name will not only stay in your humidor, but also in the Gómez family for decades to come.
At 26, Tony Gómez might be the youngest blender to earn a spot on Cigar Snob’s Top 25 list. Hell, he might be the youngest blender to have a cigar end up on anybody’s list. While his father struggled for years to prove La Flor Dominicana deserved respect, Tony’s challenge has been to show he’s more than a comfortable heir.
“Inés and my dad started the company when I was around 7 or 8 years old. So it was something that I was exposed to very early,” he said, puffing a Chapter One at Little Havana Cigar Factory on Miami’s iconic Calle Ocho. “My goal was to go to film school and study screenwriting. But toward the end of college, I started thinking about the opportunity that I had in front of me. My dad never pressured me or anything. He always let me make my own decisions and be who I wanted to be, but he made it very clear that, if I wanted it, I had a job.”
Having decided to give the cigar business a shot, Tony partied until 5 a.m. after his 2009 graduation from Florida State, showered, and hopped a flight to New Orleans for his first IPCPR trade show. From there, he dove into LFD full time, spending his first four years as a sales rep covering Florida and Colorado.
“(My dad and I) saw it as important for me to learn every facet of the business. That was a good place to start getting my feet wet. I think that benefitted me a lot. Now, when I’m at the factory and thinking about a new product or a new blend, I’m thinking about what retailers want, what consumers want, and I think I have a good idea of what that is,” Tony said.
In January 2013, Tony put his sales rep days behind him and started calling the Dominican Republic home most of the year. He began working at the LFD factory, where he soaks in knowledge from Litto and the rest of the company’s expert staff. In a startlingly short time, he’d put together Chapter One, a cigar that simultaneously represents his family’s philosophies and his own take on the Gómez approach.
“At this point I know who La Flor smokers are. They want a big, thick, beefy cigar. They want a lot of power, they want a lot of flavor, dark, luscious wrappers. And that’s what I like,” he said. “My dad calls me an extremist sometimes. He says I’m not afraid to go further with ligero than he would. A lot of times, I bring him a blend and he says, ‘Tony, this is way too strong. You can’t do that!’ And I understand. I like very powerful cigars. Sometimes I have to tone it down a bit.”
Despite his apparent need for Tony to “tone it down” from time to time, Litto seems to have recognized his factory’s potential as a playground and laboratory in which Tony can experiment and learn through hands-on experience. He also seems to have (wisely) taken a hands-off approach in the sense that Tony, with less than two years at the factory, has plenty of freedom to try new things. His response when Tony told him he had an idea for a new cigar almost immediately after starting his time at the factory: “Do it. If you need to ask me something, ask me, but go ahead and do it because I want you to learn.”
It paid off in a hurry.
The blend for LFD Chapter One, which came in 3rd on Cigar Snob’s Top 25 list, began with its Brazilian wrapper (which Tony loves for its “dark, sweet flavor”) and an idea for a new shape. After about 15 blending attempts, Tony felt he had a winner, but Litto wasn’t around when Tony and others at La Flor’s factory real-ized he’d arrived at the right blend for the 58 ring-gauge box-pressed chisel that makes Chapter One so easy to spot from across a room. When Tony did finally give one to Litto, he got just the response he’d hoped for.
“I lit it first and I passed it to him,” said Tony, recalling Litto’s first taste of Chapter One. “He started smoking it and said it was really good. Then he pulled a cigar out of his pocket and said, ‘You need something to smoke?’ When I realized he wasn’t going to give it back, I knew we had something.”
Few people in cigars are as well liked as Litto Gómez—perhaps a product of his having come into the industry as an outsider himself, making him more aware of the need to not only gain his peers’ respect, but also rub them the right way. Today, Tony’s benefitting from Litto’s relationships, too.
“There are some extremely close friendships between competitors,” Tony said. “I think it’s a beautiful thing. And I get to hang out with my dad when he’s with his friends—the Carrillos, the Padróns, the Fuentes. My dad’s my role model. So that’s one of the things he taught me. No matter what, you worry about La Flor. Don’t worry about what others are doing, don’t get into rivalries. Don’t get involved in any of that because that will be your downfall. It’s a small industry and there’s no reason for it.”
Thanks to the work that Litto put into going from outsider to industry heavyweight, Tony is stepping into a position where he’s able to use the fact that he’s not be-holden to tradition to his advantage. There are no Cuban or Dominican roots to stay true to. No great-great-grandfather to honor with conservative ideas. The short Gómez legacy is one of risk and creativity. In fact, that creative aspect of cigar making is part of the reason Tony sees himself sticking around for a long time.
“I’ve always been interested in artistic endeavors. I love playing music. I play bass, guitar, drums… I was in bands in college. I was a writer. So I always wanted to pursue a creative endeavor. I guess it wasn’t until I started getting closer to the business that I really realized how much of an art making cigars is. When I realized that, that’s when I thought, ‘This is it,’” he said. “There was no looking back for me.”
Despite the fact that Chapter One was a home run, he still feels he has things to prove. With a top-notch factory, farms tailor-made for his palate, and the best mentor he could hope to work for, he has all the tools he needs to show the cigar industry and La Flor smokers that he’s worthy of the responsibility he’s being given. Some day, Tony will have some big boots to fill. But it’ll stop at the boots.
“The hat is my dad’s,” said Tony, laughing off the idea that he’d inherit his dad’s signature accessory. “I don’t look as good in it as he does, anyway. I don’t dress flamboyantly. I don’t go very bright or loud or anything. I think being 6-foot-7 is already unique enough. I get enough attention as it is just being a giant. Maybe the height and the beard will be my thing.”