HoOchly talks with September Sponsor of the Month Danny Vazquez about his new cigar The Voyage and his future plans for Baracoa Cigar Company.
Hoochly: Tell us about Danny V. What’s going on in your life right now.
Danny: Tons of stuff… I’ve got a beautiful wife and 4, just as beautiful, daughters. Got a little one that just started kindergarten which is exciting. Also, building the brand and building awareness, hitting up shops and really learning this side of the industry. Network, network, network!
Hoochly: How did you first get involved with cigars? When/How did you start smoking?
Danny: The first time I smoked a cigar I was 21 years old and I only did it because it was all the upper management in the company going out to drink and smoke cigars and I wanted to join in, needless to say I didn’t even smoke half of it and I was sick to my stomach. I don’t even remember what kind of cigar it was but for me it was pretty strong. Years later I attempted it again with something not as strong (some Rocky Patel) and this time it was enjoyable. And then the rest is history, I got hooked. Bought my first humidor and started filling it, and then really started getting in to the whole culture and lifestyle side of the cigar industry, and became a cigar nerd.
Hoochly: What did you use to do before getting into the cigar business and what are your side hobbies or other passions?
Danny: So as I’m still not a cigar millionaire yet, I am still employed full time as an IT Director for a company based out of Bethesda Maryland. I oversee all 6 locations across 3 different campuses. It pays the bills. I have a couple other passions, cooking is probably top of the list, a lot of my family members are surprised that I didn’t open up a restaurant (maybe in the future) I love to cook for the family and just see them enjoy it, love trying new things with traditional foods. I’ve really started getting in to wines lately as well, I don’t know if it’s because I’ve gotten older or because I’ve really been working on developing my palette this this is just the next progression of that, but finding some really interesting flavors with all kinds of wines and I think I’m a great part of the country to really build that passion. And my kids also, love seeing them learn new things and hack different obstacles in life, love seeing my 5 year old playing soccer for the first time and being able to give her that experience.
Hoochly: Tell us the story of The Voyage. When did you decide you were going to make a cigar and brand? Tell us the process you went through (choosing name, factory, blend, etc.)
Danny: So it was around March of 2014 sitting in a lounge (as usual) with a buddy and we started talking about opening a lounge, started looking in to it and it was honestly not what I was really interested in. I quickly realized I wanted to have my own product in these stores. So I started digging and talking to people that I knew and had met in the industry and got to work on the concept and wanted to nail down exactly what I was looking to do, so that when I started working with a factory, I would be able to come in start working on exactly what I wanted, funny thing about that is I originally wanted to work with a Habano wrapper, but fell in love with this Corojo leaf that I’m using now.
I chose La Aurora factory out of the DR because of a great conversation I had with their master blender Manuel Inoa. He made me understand that I’d be able to work on whatever I was looking to do and he really understood my vision and wanted me to work with them. I couldn’t pass that up. Not to mention that they have a great history and a great factory that I know would be able to deliver the consistency that I was going after.
The name “The Voyage” came to me when thinking about the name of the company Baracoa. Baracoa is a city on the east coast of Cuba and was the first spot that Christopher Columbus landed when he arrived at the island. For me, it wasn’t so much that he discovered the new world (since there were already people there) but more about the courage it took to take that “Voyage” and discover something new to his world. And that really sums up my story in to the cigar industry. I don’t come from a long line of tobacco growing, cigar rolling family. I’m just someone that had a true passion for what I was getting in to and decided to follow my dream.
As far as the blend goes, I really wanted hints of cocoa, leather and a touch of pepper. And I think that switching from Habano wrapper to this beautiful Corojo wrapper really capture what was looking for.
Hoochly: On The Voyage artwork we see the mantra “Never Settle”, what does it refer to?
Danny: So in sticking with the entire Columbus/Nautical/Discovery theme that is part of Baracoa, the same way that Christopher Columbus didn’t “settle” for what was conventional thinking at the time that the earth was flat, and also didn’t “settle” for just the first spot he landed. I also didn’t settle for just being a cigar smoker or enthusiast, I pushed because I wanted more. And like I said before, I could’ve settled for a “house blend” and just slap a pretty label on the cigar and call it mine. But that wasn’t good enough. So that’s how I’m approaching everything when it comes to the industry, I’d rather not do it at all than do it half-assed. And I’d rather push forward and not settle for what I’ve been told I can’t do, and make it happen. Never Settle… it’s our core belief.
Hoochly: What’s the hardest thing you encountered on your journey to making your own cigar?
Danny: Getting a factory to really work with you and not just offer something that is already on their shelf and you slap your band on. Getting something of quality to be proud of starts with the factory you choose. If they don’t have good tobacco to choose from, it’s going to be difficult to achieve something great.
Hoochly: Where can people buy The Voyage?
Danny: Right now they are available in a few stores, 2 of which have online stores; heightscigar.com (owned by Hoochly Shack member, Benny Blanchard) and tntcigars.com
Hoochly: What are your plans for the future as it relates to cigars (or anything)?
Danny: Right now, I am really watching the FDA regulations and learning about what is it going to cost for a company like mine. Also, I am watching the lawsuit that is in place to see if that offers any type of relief. So for now, my plan is to grow the following for The Voyage and really get it out there in the next 12 months and see where it goes. I have my next 3 cigars blends and names already set and ready to go if I get the chance. I also really want to be more active in the fight against the FDA regulations and push the Save the Leaf movement.
Hoochly: What else do we need to know about Danny V.?
Danny: I’m a huge fan boy of the industry, you’ll still see me at other people’s events, I’ll still be bidding on auctions and wearing other company shirts. I love my product and I love my brand, but I love the industry and the people that I’ve met along the way and I’ll always just be me.