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The Lector

Tabanero Cigars is dedicated to honoring the past as we usher in the future.  In today’s blog, we are going to discuss an interesting position from the early culture in Ybor: the lector.

Ybor City: The Story

Please imagine with me.  It is 1901 and we are in a cigar factory.  We are looking at a small wooden table covered with tobacco leaves.  Above the table on a shelf is a stack of handmade cigars.  Behind the table, sitting on a wooden chair is a man who came to Tampa from his native Cuba.  His white shirt, though neatly pressed, is tainted by the sultry summer air and clings to his wiry frame.  As we pan out and see his wider environment, we notice that there are dozens of similar workstations occupied by both men and women.  
In the center of the room is a man under a crisp white fedora.  He is sitting on a chair perched on an elevated platform.  In his hand, he holds a newspaper. At his feet are several books.  The room is a deluge of noise: the neighing of horses who are pulling carts full of cigars, the clacking of the chaveta of the worker chopping leaves, and the general bustle of an active factory.  Above this din, the clear voice of the lector is heard. 


This was a common scene in the early days of the cigar industry.  At first, the lector was one of the workers who took thirty minutes or so to read material requested by following workers.  The workers pooled the funds to compensate the lector for the time taken away from making cigars.  The factory owners took notice that worker productivity increased during the times when the lector was reading.  Soon the lector became a hired position.  Quickly lectors became respected and assumed a special role in the community of the cigar artisan. 
Unfortunately, the position of lector dissipated due to the worker revolt of 1931 which was partially blamed on the political material chosen by various lectors. 
The lector will forever be a part of the cigar culture.  We at Tabanero Cigars are cultivating the spirit of the lector through various artist events which we host at our artisan’s boutique.

Talking about Tabanero

The History of Ybor City

On March 16th The Washington Post published an article written by Jason Wilson, “For Ybor City in Florida, a Historic Cigar Town Faces a Cloudy Future.” We are going to expound upon the discussion he raised concerning our town and our craft.  Jason recognized that we are doing something wonderfully unique in Tampa.  “Every minute of every day in Ybor City is a good time for a cigar. in Ybor City, it seems as if — whether perversely or refreshingly — one enters a parallel universe where smoking cigars is still a totally natural part of life.”  This parallel universe, as Jason stated, is the rebirth an industry that was as culturally rich as the soil that produces the savory cigars that made Tampa the envy of the globe. Every renaissance is both the reclamation of the nostalgia of the past and the embrace of the hope of future prospects.  As we at Tabanero Cigars dedicate ourselves to this rebirth of Tampa as the cigar capital, we harken to the past voices.

The Beginnings of Tampa as the Cigar Capital

“Vicente Martinez Ybor created modern Tampa out of a marshy backwater, and the population grew from about 700 in 1880 to more than 37,000 residents in 1910. The best cigar rollers left Cuba for Tampa by the thousands. Ybor brought an expanded port, paved roads, hundreds of new homes and businesses, streetcars, insurance companies and health clinics.  In the early 20th century, Tampa had been the undisputed cigar capital of the world, outproducing even Havana. In its heyday, the city had more than 150 factories, employing about 10,000 workers and rolling more than 500 million cigars each year. Now, beyond the small storefront producers still rolling premium handmade cigars, only one large cigar factory remains.”

How the Past Affects the Present

Jason has correctly identified the nature of the past cigar industry as well as the challenge of the present.  Will Ybor have the large cigar factories that once were the pillars of the industry? Not likely.  However, that is not even part of the vision for the renaissance that Tabanero Cigars is helping to forge.  We believe that the new cigar industry will be a network of cigar boutiques known for the quality of hand-made cigars and not for the quantity.  A similar model might be the growth of ‘craft beer’ as opposed to mass produced beer.  

As more people begin to catch the vision for this nascent artisan boutique in Ybor than we will all see something beautiful blossom in Tampa.

Read the full article here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/for-ybor-city-in-florida-a-historic-cigar-town-faces-a-cloudy-future/2017/03/15/c6de6100-efa8-11e6-9662-6eedf1627882_story.html 

The Genesis Story of Tabanero Cigars

The Story of Tabanero Cigars

“You can do whatever you dream.”
Those were the words my mother spoke to me often.

Just as the golden rays of the rising sun would greet the fertile ground of Cuba, so the words of her encouragement greeted me each morning and planted themselves in my heart. The Cuban soil produced crops of the sweetest sugar and finest tobacco. My heart produced a dream of the truest Old World values and New World optimism.

My name is Yanko Macedo and this is my story. It is a story of how my Cuban heritage and the American Dream are bringing a renaissance of the cigar industry in Tampa by providing you with the finest cigars handmade by greatest artisans who truly love the craft.

I was born in 1978 to a really poor family in the outskirts of Havana. I'm not lucky enough to say my immediate family had farms or factories; we were pretty poor.  It is a wondrous thing that dreams can grow in such a situation, but the human heart is fertile ground regardless the circumstances that surround it.

Cuba is world renowned for her cigars. It is not just the tobacco that is produced there, it is also the craft of the artisan who makes the cigar. I was fortunate to witness these truths in person as a young boy. Growing up I was sent to visit a member of my extended family who had a farm in Pinar de Rio where they still grow tobacco today. It was during the summers spent amongst the fields and people of Pinar that a love for the way of the cigar was cultivated in me.

Even as a young boy I always knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur.  Something that was instrumental in shaping that desire was a movie I saw when I was six or seven. The movie was Baby Boom. The main character starts a business making and selling baby food. She starts it in her home in New York. The business became a big industry. That really caught my attention. Living in Cuba I couldn’t believe there was a country in which you could do things like that. To have a dream, to start in the kitchen of your house and to become such a big industry – this is wonderful. It is amazing. I wanted to see my dreams come true in America.

In school, every time that they ask me, ‘So Yanko, what are you going to do when you finish this or that?” I always said, “I’m going to America!”  They would say, “ Ah man, you always say that same thing that you are going to America.”

Well, I finally made it when I was sixteen. The first nine years I wasted in Miami by chasing the wrong dreams. I thought that what I was looking for was money, was riches and all that came with it. It took me nine years and eight different ventures, eight different ideas before I understood that what I was looking for was a purpose. The real dream was to feel that I had a purpose.

I remembered those fields from my youth and the beautiful way the artisans made the cigars. The vision of Tabanero Cigars was born. It is my American dream arising from my Cuban heritage. But how was I going to make my dream, my passion a reality?

One of my early ventures was a restaurant in the heart of Tampa, in Ybor City. I remember that on my breaks between lunch and dinner, I used to walk 7th Avenue. It was full of small boutiques. Every time I'd go into a small shop and try different cigars. I was astonished by the lack of consistency. On Wednesday it would taste like this and then on Friday it would be a different batch and it was a completely different taste. I thought, “Well, it looks like these people are treating their small business like a souvenir shop.”

So, I started to search in order to discover if there was a hand-made brand made here in Tampa. Whenever I asked someone the first word out of their mouths was Arturo Fuente or JC Newman.  However, Newman stopped producing hand made cigars in the 50s and switched to machine made. Arturo Fuentes left Tampa in late 70s and moved to Nicaragua. It didn’t work out in Nicaragua and they moved to the Dominican Republic. So there was no hand made brand in Tampa, Florida. That is when I became determined to start a brand to put Tampa back on the map as the premier place for the finest hand-made cigars.

Thus began the adventure of Tabanero Cigars. The first chapter of our journey began by opening a small cigar lounge by the airport in Tampa. It only lasted a year and depleted all my money. It failed. I fell. So, I took a break and started really small with one cigar roller in a little 120 square foot space.  After working with me for two weeks my only roller left because he said that I didn’t have enough clients coming through the door for me to pay him. I said to myself, “Well, what do I do now?”

But I was so sure of my dream and I was working so hard on my vision of having a hand made brand in Tampa that no obstacle was going to stop me. The feeling was so strong that God had been lining up every piece that I needed to make the dream a reality. He was putting together every piece to make the Tabanero brand the most famous brand in the world. My vision was clear. When people mention Cuba anywhere in the world, whether in Dubai, Paris, or Chicago they think of quality cigars. That is what I wanted for Tabanero. Wherever a person is located, whenever they think of fine hand-made cigars, they will think of Tampa and Tabanero.

So in that little space I grew to five rollers. I had to work outside because there was not enough room for me to work in the same place as the rollers. I realized that we needed a new location. We moved five times in a short span of time. At one location we were having our best sales when we were presented with a new opportunity. The owner of a new Cuban-themed nightclub approached me and said, “Yanko, would you like to have an opportunity to move to 7th Avenue?” I jumped at the chance. They put us in a corner of the nightclub where the patrons to the club could watch our rollers. We were doing good numbers from that corner and I thought we had finally arrived. But after six months the nightclub failed and someone called to tell me we had to be out by the end of the month. It was a difficult time.

People saw me pack all our stuff into a truck and they thought, “Well, that's the end of Tabanero.” I had to move into a house which we rented in Ybor Heights. It was a disappointing setback. So I prayed more earnestly and worked even harder on my vision. I would come to the four corners in the heart of Ybor each day for an hour and envision our store in this location. Then I would say to God, “I want to be on one of these corners. I don’t know where and I don’t know how. You know we don’t have the money, but God I want to be on one of these four corners.”

I wait patiently and patiently at the little house where we were barely surviving. One day a business owner approached me and said, “I have a place on 22nd across from the Columbia restaurant which has been in Tampa for a hundred and five years.” I said, “Well, that's better than a house!” So we moved over there and begin growing again. But I did not forget about my prayer to God to be located on one of the four corners.

My heart focused upon a storefront on Seventh avenue that was perfect. I called the landlord telling him I wanted to rent. He said, “No.” But I did not give up. I kept calling him. For four months, every week I would call him. At first, he would answer but after the sixth call he got really mad at me and said, “Please don’t call me anymore I said 'no' already.” I kept calling anyway and would leave a message saying, “This is Yanko Macedo and this is your weekly call. Please if you change your mind let me know – this is my number.”

One day I was overwhelmed by my passion for making Tabanero Cigars the best hand-made cigar boutique in the world. I called the landlord and left a voice mail from the bottom of my heart.  God knows it was from the bottom of my heart. I said, “Sir, you've been saying “no” for four months, but I really, really beg you that we meet face to face and allow me to share with you how we can infuse that corner with the right clientele. There have been bars at that corner forever and it has never positively affected your surrounding neighbors. Let me share with you how my clientele is going to help make that corner a destination point.” The next day at 8 a.m. I got a phone call from the landlord saying, “Ok Yanko, I want to hear what you have to say. I'll see you at 10 am.”

We met and he believed in our dream. So we are now in that location! I love it; I'm so blessed. Customers say to me, “You have a great location.” I respond, “No I don’t have a great location. I have the best location!” From Tampa, Florida we can save the world. If we are talking about cigars, there is not a location like this in Miami, there is not a location like this in New York, there is no location like this anywhere in the world. I am so blessed. Every time I write my check to the landlord I always put a note in there: “John, Thank You. Thank you for the opportunity. I can't thank you enough.” I do it every month.

When I reflect on where we are and remember from where we came – wow.  It is hard to believe that a kid from Havana, a kid with no schooling, could have such an opportunity and through hard work fueled by an unwavering belief in his dream come to this place. Well, that is my dream; this is my story.

Tabanero Cigars Featured in Cigar Snob Magazine

We were recently featured in Cigar Snob Magazine! 

Read the full article below and find out more about why we love what we do. The featured Maceda Press Torpedo is named after Tabanero Cigars owner, Yanko Maceda. Find out more about the Maceda Press here.

Tabanero Cigars Featured in Cigar Snob Magazine

It's a reassuring feeling of our passion being recognized, and we will once again conquer the cigar industry in Ybor City just like Vicente Martinez Ybor did over 100 years ago! Find out more about our passion here.

The Tabanero Maceda Press Torpedo

The Maceda Press was a huge hit at our anniversary party! It was enjoyed so much that we are getting low on our supply! The Maceda Press is a cigar containing a rich, bold blend of flavorful tobacco delivering a delicious medium to full strength.

The Tabanero Maceda Press is a flavorful blend that starts off with rich tobacco flavors having notes of cedar and a spicy finish that lingers on the palette. You will experience fresh tobacco flavors and a cool draw from start to finish right down to the nub.