Interview with Dustin Schmidt of Carlos Toraño Cigars

Dustin Schmidt and master roller Felipe Sosa

Cigar enthusiasts often think of cigar company reps as professional cigar smokers that advocate just one particular brand. In reality, cigar repping is a lot more complex and takes even more hard work. I recently spoke with Dustin Schmidt, Northeast Territory Representative for Carlos Toraño Cigars, about what it means to be a cigar rep, and what brought him into the business.

Q. Where are you from, and what originally drew you to cigars?

A. I was born and raised in Croton-on-Hudson, NY.  For all of you out there wondering where that is, it is a small bedroom community located an hour north of NYC. I first started getting into cigars at the age of 18 when I took a senior class trip to Spain.  My classmates and I, free from the tyranny of middle class parenthood, had a bit of a rebellious streak running though us before we landed in Madrid.  We wanted to get our hands on anything that may be construed as counterculture, or defying the status quo, so cigars seemed like a natural fit.  Plus we had heard you could smoke Cubans there, so the forbidden fruit theory had proven true.  My first cigar was a Montecristo #4 and needless to say my untrained palate could not decipher any distinguishable characteristics at the time, but I thought it was a pretty cool experience.

Q. How did you first get involved with Toraño?

That is an interesting question, and one that I could go on forever about because it was quite the journey.  I will try to give the Cliffs Notes version if that is at all possible.  I had worked at the Davidoff Columbus Circle store in Manhattan between 2007 and 2008.  There I learned quite a bit about cigars from Michael Herklots and Kevin Threat along with manufacturers who came to visit the store.

Before then, I had been passionate about cigars for several years, but I knew very little about how they were made, the different types of tobacco used, and countries of origin along with their impact on the flavor profile.  From there I started my own blog, where I reviewed boutique cigars from manufacturers like El Tiante, Reinado, Nomad Cigar Company, and Panacea Cigars.

In January 2012, I was at a Toraño Family Cigars tasting event at one of my favorite shops on the planet: Hudson Valley Cigars in New Windsor, NY.  I am still enamored by the fact that you can go there and enjoy a cigar along with an unbelievable steak dinner at Schlessingers Steak House.  At the event I met Territory Representative Miguel Schoedel who was excited about where Toraño was headed.  They were experiencing quite a bit of growth at the time and were looking to bring on a new rep for the Northeast.  When I first submitted my resume to VP of Sales and Marketing Bruce Lewis, he said that they were expanding, but it would not be for a few more months.  I was excited about the possibility of working for them, and knowing that I was one of many qualified candidates interested in the position, I asked to review some of their cigars on my blog.  I had smoked the Exodus 50 Year, Exodus 1959, and Master before, but had never reviewed their cigars.  I was sent some samples and really enjoyed all of them, especially one of their newer blends at the time: Vault.  About five months later I was hired, and the rest is history.

Q. What’s it like being a brand rep? I know for some of us enthusiasts, brand reps can seem like shadowy figures traveling around in the name of a company. But what it is that you do? 

A. Being a territory representative in the cigar industry is far different than what I thought it was like when I was a consumer hanging out at cigar shops.  Don’t get me wrong, It is great to travel across the Northeast to visit shops and to meet customers, but I think many people paint a hyperbolic, romanticized picture about what it must be like to be a cigar salesman.  I believe what many people miss is the sacrifice, hard work  and stress involved being on the road as frequently as you are.  I have grown the utmost respect for cigar reps as the result of walking in their shoes because I could not grasp all that it entailed before now.

Q. What is the most memorable experience you’ve had as a member of the Toraño family?

A. That’s easy: meeting Charlie Toraño just outside of Newark Airport right after I was hired last year.  I had never met Charlie before, so it was quite a surreal experience.  At the time it was kind of intimidating because here I was a total rookie in the cigar industry with no real experience, but he had the confidence and trust in my ability to help grow their presence in the Northeast.

Q. Cigar smokers are known for being friendly, but the industry as a whole can sometimes seem a bit cut-throat. What has been your experience?

My approach is somewhat atypical.  I believe that the best way to make a contribution is to create value and be of service unconditionally.  Bullying is a dead end street that usually leads to resentment and hard feelings.  When you have a product that is as good of quality and at an incredibly competitive price as Toraño, it becomes more about building relationships and less about the hard sell.  Yes, it is a competitive marketplace with a lot of great choices, and there are many fine cigars coming to shops across the country every day that blow me away in terms of complexity, and quality of blending.  We believe that there is a cigar in our portfolio that is right for you, and ultimately our goal is to find one that fits into your rotation.

Q. Toraño makes incredible cigars. The Master Blend (reviewed here) and Master Maduro are fantastic, along with the Exodus 50 Year (reviewed here). Some of my favorite cigars. Yet I don’t see them at many shops, which has always surprised me. Is Toraño more of a boutique brand, or is your plan to expand and become a national, sort of everyday smoke? 

A. Toraño Cigars is a boutique brand.  Being a family owned company, we are pretty small compared to other manufacturers.  The reason why you don’t see Toraño everywhere is because we are more focused on working with the best stores that are supportive of our lines rather than being everywhere you go.  Having said that, there is more room for growth and with our portfolio expanding to include Leccia Tobacco Company and Palio, we are excited about where we are, and the direction we are going.

You can learn more about Carlos Toraño Cigars at their website