On A Roll, Fort Worth Business Press - February 17, 2017
Most people know Al Micallef best as the owner of Reata restaurants in Alpine and Fort Worth. But few know the story of how he recently became a rising star in the cigar industry. He is the primary investor and namesake of Micallef Cigars.
It started last June when a white SUV pulled up in front of Silver Leaf Cigar Lounge in downtown Fort Worth. The SUV had broken down earlier in Fort Worth on its trek north from Houston. The occupants thought that while they were stuck here anyway, they would stop by a local cigar lounge to try to market their hand-rolled cigars.
“It was a busy Friday night,” recalled Jake Kestleoot, manager of Silver Leaf. “I had no idea who they were. We allowed them to come in and set up a live rolling event where they passed out samples to our customers. The cigars were so good and so popular, they ended up staying in Fort Worth for a full week.”
Kestleoot and Micallef came to learn that the men were members of the famous Gomez Sanchez family of cigar rollers. Three generations, born in Cuba, have become experts in their craft.
Joel Gomez Sanchez left Cuba in 1994, and his brother Edel left in 1998. The brothers currently live in Florida. Their mother, Migdalia Sanchez, was a highly trained tobacconist and one of Fidel Castro's senior rollers before she defected. And her father, Joel’s and Edel’s grandfather, Pedro F. Gomez, learned his trade young and traveled the world perfecting it and later passing that wealth of knowledge down to his grandsons.
Micallef has been enjoying cigars for some time. He began smoking them 25 years ago, but only at his ranch in Alpine because his wife would never allow cigars to be smoked in the house. “They are wrapped so tightly − smoking a cigar is an hour and half commitment. And, in a good cigar, the flavors change as you smoke it in a very palatable way,” he said.
A serial entrepreneur with many successful businesses to his credit, (among them his automotive supply business JAMAK fabrication, his silicone rubber company, a high-volume cattle ranch in Alpine and noted restaurants), Micallef knew a good thing when he saw it.
“You have to smoke a bad cigar to be able to spot a good one,” Micallef said.
Impressed by the quality of the Gomez Sanchez product, Micallef quickly placed a minimum order of 1,000 cigars and charged the brothers with creating the best cigars they could. What they produced was a superior product, and the new Micallef line, which includes seven unique cigars, is quickly gaining popularity.
“The family takes so much pride in their products. They only needed my capital and marketing expertise to really take off,” Micallef said.
The Micallef Reserva, which is a medium-to-full-strength Churchill format cigar, recently received a 92 rating from Cigar Snob Magazine. It is one of the highest-priced cigars at Silver Leaf, at $42 apiece, but also one of the most popular. “People recognize quality and are willing to pay for it,” Micallef said.
“The local aspect of ownership is the initial draw for patrons to sample it,” said Kestleoot. “As far as the smoking experience, the construction and flavor profiles are very appealing. There is a cigar for everyone’s taste in the Micallef line.”
Micallef Cigars is taking off right now, but Micallef himself is taking it all in stride. He’s been here before.
“I like the challenge of new things and my curiosity is strong, but I get bored easily,” Micallef said. “If you go out and look for a business, sometimes you force it. But if the demand already exists and the product is there, those are the most successful business investments, from my experience.”
With one factory now in Esteli, Nicaragua, Micallef Cigars plans to open a second factory there soon just to keep up with demand. “We have had significant sales so far, but marketing and advertising volume have to catch up with our fixed costs,” Micallef said. “By the end of 2017, we should be turning a strong profit.”
Micallef Cigars is beginning to bite at the heels of the big cigar producers, with a new marketing push and increased social media presence.
In April, Micallef Cigars will host about 4,000 people from around the country at Panther Island for the international launch of its entire Micallef line.