Nirka Reyes has become the face of De Los Reyes Cigars, matured as a leader in the industry, and earned the respect of her peers. She sat down with us to talk about new brands, her family’s love for hospitality, and her father’s foodie legacy.
Interview by Erik Calviño
Before we get to the products that you’re releasing this year, can you give us a little bit of context around Saga, your position in it and where the company is nowadays?
Yes, of course. The company name is De Los Reyes Cigars. It is a company that I basically inherited in life from my father and I’ve been running it for the past eight years. I did work with my father on a previous project that is called Don Julio. Saga was kind of like my baby. And the reason that I named the brand Saga is because what made me fall in love with this industry are the stories people tell.
Sagas are that; they’re stories that people tell generation after generation. And that was another connection for me to name it that way. There’s many people in the industry and there’s been many old families making cigars, but in the Dominican Republic none of them has continuously been in the tobacco industry for six generations. So that’s how Saga came up.
It has four different lines. The Saga Golden Age, which is a Dominican puro; Saga Blend No. 7, that is kind of our tribute to Cuban seeds grown in different parts of the world and it has Brazil, Nicaragua Honduras, and Dominican Republic all in one blend; and then the Saga Short Tales, which is the collection packaged in books. A lot of people have been talking about those. It’s a collection of books because we kind of figured that nowadays smokers are way more interested in knowing about the cigars that they’re smoking, about the story behind them. So we make a collection of books and each of them is a different story, a different blend, a different size. And it’s been picking up very well. Last but not least, the Saga Solaz, which we’re smoking right now.
The books are great. We have them at our office and every time someone walks by, they’re like, “What is this?” We love it. It’s such a unique presentation.
So tell us about the Solaz. I’m smoking it now for the first time. What is the story with this blend?
Well, first of all, “solaz” is a word in Spanish that means that recreation, the leisure time after work. So it’s that time after you’re done with your job and you want to enjoy something relaxing.
We wanted to make our first mild-to-medium cigar because everything that we’ve done in the past is from medium up. So this is our first mild-to-medium cigar. It has an Ecuadorian wrapper and then everything else is from the Dominican Republic, from my family fields. Even though we went milder on these than our other cigars, we wanted to maintain the full flavor and the complexity going on because the market already has so many very balanced, very continuously mild cigars that people go for. And we wanted to make something different to have flavor but without the spiciness. That’s why we came up with the Solaz. Also, it has a very smooth draw. We went a little bit below the standard on the Drawmaster just to make it an easygoing cigar to go with the name Solaz.
So an easygoing smoke to sort of end your day.
Also it comes in three different formats: a Robusto, a Churchill and a Toro Gordo, which is a 6 x 58.
Oh yeah. This is kind of an ideal cigar for golfing because it’s so easygoing and low in strength, so it doesn’t give you a buzz. Really well done. How is Saga doing in the U.S. market? I know you guys do a lot internationally. In the U.S. market, on the other hand, there’s places that I go that I don’t see Saga. And then there’s places where it’s everywhere.
Well, the thing about our company is that we don’t make cigars as a business. I know people are gonna say, “Oh yeah, whatever.” But we do it because we’re passionate about it and we want to bring joy to the people who really like cigars and the way that we’ve been doing it is that we’ve been doing everything personal.
We don’t have that many sales reps. We’ve been handling everything with Jean Michel, who’s the other Saga ambassador. He’s the one traveling to stores and visiting them. Most of the sales come because someone tried our cigars, then they kind of convinced the shop owners to buy it. And that’s been the way for us.
Now I understand because the name’s getting out there and a lot of people are saying, “I don’t find it anywhere.” We’re in the process of hiring reps. We have one in Texas right now. And also getting distributors or brokers. For example, in California, we just started with GMG and we’re starting to get out there to have a more complex structure to actually supply the smokers that want to have our cigars.
Shifting gears, let’s talk about the other Saga, the restaurant. I think everyone who goes to ProCigar (the Dominican Republic’s cigar festival) and everyone that goes to Santiago knows about. But that’s a very small percentage of U.S. cigar smokers. And so just touch on that restaurant because I think it’s such a unique part of the Saga family of offerings.
Before this interview, you gave me Saga coffee and you gave me Saga cookies.It’s not normal, not common for me to walk into one of these and get handed artisanal cookies that are so delicious. So tell us first about what’s up with the cookies and the coffee and then tell me about the restaurant.
I inherited that from my father. We’re a very welcoming family. We want everyone to feel at home. So everyone who visits us at ProCigar, they get to go to our fields. And in the fields we have kind of like what we call a hangover table. And there we serve coffee — freshly brewed …
I’ve never been at that table.
No you haven’t. No. No. And they make their coffee old style and we have cookies with the coffee. So we said, you know, “Not everyone gets a chance to come to the Dominican Republic. Why don’t we bring a little bit of that here?” And that’s all we did.
I love it. Is there any concept of doing events, say in the U.S., and bringing a little bit of that with you? I think that’s such a different twist.
I know. It is part of our plan because it is something that distinguishes us. The attention to detail. And that’s something that, because I think we’re on the smaller scale size of a company, we’re able to do and still connect with people and be welcoming.
When I had to handle my first ProCigar festival, I was like, “Oh my God, how are we going to get all these people to come if maybe they don’t know that much about the company?” That was the first year. The second year, people started talking about our tour because of the hospitality piece of it. And now I have to close it because I have too many people on my tour.
The first time I went to the tour with you guys, I left with a coffee mug with my name on it. Whether by design or just because of the nature of the way you guys are, it’s become your brand identity to be so hospitable.
I do want to talk about the restaurant because whoever goes to Santiago, DR has to go to Saga.
Well, what happened is that my dad was always kind of upset. “Where am I going to take people who come visit me that I can smoke easily after dinner and that every cigar smoker can come?” And he’s always been a foodie. My Dad’s like a big time foodie and he loves spirits and he loves wine. And he said, “You know, I’m gonna make it.” Just so you know, the name of the restaurant is not Saga. If you ask him, it’s Sabores Gastronómicos, but no one knows it that way.
I didn’t even know that. He’s so funny. He threatens me with food. Like, “If you come, you know, we may run out of the Tomahawk that night.”
I have my dad to thank for teaching us how to always be so welcoming. And it was his way to leave kind of a legacy to the industry because it’s not only us who use that restaurant. Every single Dominican manufacturer goes there. You’ll go on a Wednesday and you’ll see Litto drinking his rum over there. And then you’re going to see maybe Manolo in another table or Carlito picking dinner up. It’s full of the manufacturers all the time.
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Photo: Michy Watchao