Q + A with Founder Jeffrey Amendola
-I moved to Durham N.C. in 2009 and started a career in Law Enforcement. While I was in the Police academy I would enjoy a nice cigar in my down time and was surprised that the area I was in only had one or two shops and not many places to smoke. I also noticed that no one was really hosting cigar social events and there were no factories or locally hand made cigars. I decided to host a cigar social event at a local bar because I needed an outlet and was always looking for a good excuse to light one up with co-workers and friends. I had fresh cigars from a factory in the Bronx at the time and had a nice little turn out where guests could purchase from me. That one event became a monthly event, then a bi-weekly event and other venues were asking me to come host and sell cigars on different nights. I saw momentum in this business model and began setting up cigar bars at weddings and house parties as well. When I graduated the police academy I became an official cigar retailer, wholesaler, and manufacturer as “Bull City Cigar Co.” Selling cigars and hosting events became my side hustle, as I like to call it and had a great time doing it. I didn’t mind having my product made in the Bronx but I wanted to make my product more personal so I devoted my free time to learning about different types of tobacco and how to blend. I soon had connects in Miami to get raw leaf tobacco and found hand me down rolling equipment from old factories. A lot of our tables and tools at the time were made by some locals that just wanted to help me get going. I started rolling my own blends in a room at RJ cigars in Raleigh, then moved the factory to a small office underneath a coffee shop in Durham near Duke University. I had 2 other cigar rollers working with me at the time that really helped me define my blends, some of which we are still producing today. That led to opening wholesale accounts, doing more events, and eventually opening my own retail shop and cigar lounge. I rebranded in 2017 to Amendola Family Cigar Co. I felt the need to personalize the brand with my last name and to build a legacy for my children and family.
When did you get into cigars? Do you remember your first cigar experience?
-I got curious about cigars when I would visit Arthur Ave. in the Bronx NY. It was a place near where I grew up that has the best Italian food, fresh markets, and a cigar factory in the main retail market on the block. I was fascinated by watching the cigars being made and what went into prepping the tobacco and I started collecting cigar boxes. I loved the artwork and nostalgia. I was 16 or so at the time but didn’t have my first cigar until I was 21 or so. I was hooked on the experience ever since.
When did you decide to learn to roll cigars?
-2011 when I decided I was in this for the long haul and I wanted to blend and produce my own product.
Who taught you?
-I found a factory in Ybor City, Florida, by the name of La Faraona Cigars. Odelma, the owner took me in and taught me everything I needed to know about rolling cigars as well as one of my full time rollers, “Kiko”. Kiko was a supervisor at Davidoff for 7 years, and worked in the Fuente factory for many years.
Is this your full time job? What did you do prior to the cigar world?
-This is my full time job. Cigars are my life at this point. Prior to working in the cigar business I was employed with the City of Durham Police department and resigned in 2015 as a Special Victims Unit Detective. When I resigned I jumped into my cigar biz full time.
Production was recently moved to Tabacalera G. Kafie Y Cia factory. You discuss that a bit in the press release but can you elaborate on that a bit here?
-Moving our production to Honduras has been the greatest decision I have made so far. I have complete freedom to blend my product the way I see fit and approve the tobacco that we use and choose to ferment. It is also a one stop shop. All of our boxes, labels, and cigars are produced under the same management. Dr. Kafie is a great guy to work with and he allows me to do what is best for my business and my blends.
Your company produced more than 30,000 cigars last year and you are projected to increase that by 30%. What do you attribute your growth to?
-I contribute that to putting out a solid product. No hype, no shenanigans, no gimmicks, just a good quality consistent cigar. I am old school and believe in a classic, timeless look, something that doesn’t go out of style. I pride myself in the relationships I have with my customers and retailers and rely on their returning business. With those relationships, comes word of mouth. People are starting to talk about Amendola and want to experience it for them self. On a separate note we have just started to open accounts in Texas, NYC, and other states across the USA. I will also be attending the international trade show in Germany on Sept. 19th 2018 and am expecting to finalize distribution deals with Germany, Italy, and other European countries.
I recently attended one of your rolling events. How often do you host those?
-I host rolling events at least 3 times a month at different venues and cigar shops.
Where can people find your cigars in their local B&M’s? Any areas you are looking to expand into specifically?
-We are currently selling in NYC, NC, PA, and Texas. Florida and GA are next as well as South Africa, and in the European Market. You can still buy from our headquarters at 1214 University Dr. Durham, NC or online www.amendolafamilycigars.com We are working on getting a list together of all of our wholesale accounts to put online for our customers to find our product easier.
What other cigars on the market do you really enjoy or smoke on a regular basis?
-I really enjoy Kafie 1901 cigars, La Gloria Cubana, and Most of what AJ Fernandez puts out.
Are there any people in the industry that you would like to work with at some point?
-I honestly haven’t thought about that yet, but definitely think that would be an option later on down the road.
Let’s talk a bit more about the cigars coming out. You have a range of variety hitting the market from Connecticut, Habano, Maduro, Sumatra and more. Can you expand on that a bit?
-So I wanted to hit the basics and focus on what consumers usually look for in a cigar. I produce anything from a mild, medium, to full body profile. Our Connecticut blend is something to talk about though. Not what you would traditionally expect from a lighter smoke. Lots of good flavors in there. You can thank Honduras for that. Our Sumatra blend was something to do for fun and it has become one of my favorites out of all my blends. We sold out of those in the first 3 weeks so I think that is a winner. Our Habano 2000 has nice citrus notes for a medium body smoke. The Amendola Special is my signature blend and my daily smoke. It is a Nicaraguan puro with a Oscuro maduro wrapper, and maduro binder.
You are based in Durham NC. Do you have a lounge or storefront people can visit?
-Yes retail shop and lounge at 1214 University Dr. I always encourage people to come by for a nice espresso and a Amendola Cigar! Never know what might happen in there.
How much has social media helped to get your product out in front of people?
-Honestly social media and word of mouth has been the only way I am currently getting in front of people.
Anything you would like to add or discuss?
I would like to encourage the cigar community to go out and continue to support all of the boutique brands out there. We are fighting hard to overcome threats and ridiculous stipulations from the FDA and still have to compete with the mainstream cigar lines out there. Any support at all is appreciated! On a more serious note, Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em, stay ashy, and I like ‘em with a fat ash…
I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us and we look forward to a long relationship with you and your team.
I was honored to have this experience! Thank you for the love and support.
Interviewed by Scott E. Hawkes for www.cigarhawk.com