Alan Rubin, founder and owner of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Alec Bradley Cigars, was not born to a cigar family. This alone does not make Rubin unique, but it is a mark of distinction in an industry so dominated by inherited relationships and family ties. In 24 years Rubin has secured Alec Bradley’s place as one of the premier cigar labels, with a wide portfolio of products known for quality and consistency—and a corporate ethic marked by dedication to customer service. It was a journey whose pitfalls Rubin had to navigate as a true explorer, one step at a time, and from the very beginning.
Rubin started out a hardware man, in the footsteps of his father. A child of the ’60s in south Florida, Alan Rubin finished his studies at the University of Florida in 1983 and then learned the nuts and bolts of the business world by working for the family firm, All Points Screw Company. By its nature, the company was a low-margin, high-volume concern, so it made a big difference in the company’s fortunes when Rubin the son found a way to goose volume. After Hurricane Andrew struck the region in 1992, suddenly hurricane roof fasteners came into high demand, and Rubin led the family business to focus on supplying fasteners. It showed Rubin’s bona fides as a shrewd business strategist.
While his livelihood lay in hardware, Rubin’s passion lay in cigars. Introduced to fine cigars by a friend’s father while still in his early 20s, Rubin pursued the interest keenly as a young hobbyist. He started frequenting tobacconists, and he evolved into a hardware man who knew his cigars. Upon selling All Points Screw Co. in 1996, he leapt at the chance to turn his passion into a business. That year he incorporated Alec Bradley Cigars, named for his sons Alec and Bradley—small boys at the time—fully investing his family pride in the fate of the fledgling company. (Also, Rubin’s father had advised that when starting a business, it’s good for the first letter in the company name to be A, because this places it at the start of the Yellow Pages.)
It was very exciting, but bear in mind, this was all taking place around the time the cigar boom was fading. Rubin would need every scrap of business savvy his talents and experience could deliver if he was to succeed.
The challenges were daunting. Being an industry newcomer, Rubin attended trade shows and tried to meet people, but he found the search for a reliable manufacturer elusive. An early arrangement with a Honduran factory proved unworkable. In addition, his business model needed rethinking. From 1997 to 1999, Rubin was importing cigars for sale on golf courses—a line he called Bogey’s Stogies—but that venture was unprofitable and left Rubin seriously in debt and questioning his future in the industry. He knew he had to offer a higher echelon of product to win shelf space in premium cigar shops everywhere, not just golf courses in Florida.
In 2000 Rubin partnered with fellow south Florida businessman Ralph Montero, himself an up-and-comer striving for success in cigars. The relationship clicked; Montero is today executive vice president at Alec Bradley. It was he who introduced Rubin to cigar maker Hendrik (“Henke”) Kelner, owner of the Occidental Cigar factory in the Dominican Republic and manufacturer for Davidoff and Avo. Here, then, was a source of top-flight product. Rubin used the last of his ready cash to secure an initial order of 1,000 cigars, which he then mailed unsolicited in packets of two apiece to 500 merchants, “with no price list.” Follow-up telephone calls yielded more than 250 new accounts. Rubin had a successful line on his hands, and named it Occidental Reserve in homage to Henke Kelner’s factory.
Other lines followed. In the early 2000s came a cigar called Maxx, one of the industry’s early offerings in larger-sized ring gauges. Then came Trilogy, a three-sided cigar available in three blends. With its bright packaging and unique shape, Trilogy was a game-changer for the company. People responded well to the soft-three-sided concept. They liked being able to set the cigar on a flat surface and not have it roll around. The unique shape gave the cigar visibility, pizzazz, cachet. Rubin recounts that the Trilogy “put us in hundreds and hundreds of stores.” The Alec Bradley company was moving from strength to strength, exhibiting year-over-year growth in revenues and product offerings.
Rubin also has a longstanding relationship with the Endemaño family and with their Danlí, Honduras, factory Fabrica de Tabacos Raíces Cubanas S. de R.L.— Raíces Cubanas for short. (Alec Bradley reportedly has bought as much as 90 percent of the factory’s production.) Working with Raíces Cubanas, the company brought a unique regional leaf to its product line: Trojes tobacco, which is from the Jalapa Valley, only on the Honduran side of the border. It offers the sweetness of Jalapa Valley tobacco, with an intensity of flavor that makes it a perfect blending component for cigars of great distinction.
Rubin recalls: “The Trojes tobacco delivered flavors and complexities I had never experienced before. The taste was incredible, and the blending process began.” And so the cigar Rubin named Tempus came to be. Rubin says, “Tempus is Latin for time, and it took time to learn, grow, blend and age.” Introduced in 2007, Tempus was Alec Bradley’s first foray into the heavier-bodied flavor profile that was gaining in popularity. Rubin states that “Tempus would eventually rate a 94 in Cigar Aficionado, becoming Alec Bradley’s first of many Top 25 Cigars of the Year.” In 2017 the Tempus took No. 5. Rubin says that out of all his cigars, “the Tempus is closest to my heart, in terms of what it has done for our company.”
Another cigar that bears mentioning is the company’s super-premium Fine & Rare series, now a decade in production, which gained fame and accolades for offering a stunning 10-tobacco blend.
But it was the Prensado that really set the company on course for superstardom. When in 2011 Alec Bradley’s Prensado Churchill won Cigar Aficionado’s No. 1 Cigar of the Year, a buying frenzy followed—and also a struggle to cope with demand. So many orders flowed in, and the demands on the factory grew so arduous, that for a time quality suffered. Rubin had to revisit and recalibrate every process in his supply chain, from seed to manufacturing to transportation. It took him a couple of fraught years to get a handle on every new problem that hyperfast growth imposed. But at length those problems were conquered, and Rubin’s customers stuck with him.
Today the innovation continues. In October of this year, the company announced release of Project 40 Maduro, a follow-up to its critically acclaimed Project 40 line. Produced at J. Fuego Cigar Co. in Estelí, the medium-plus bodied blend features a San Andrés wrapper, Brazilian Habano binder and all Nicaraguan fillers. Project 40 Maduro is set to begin shipping globally as this article goes to print.
The past year has ushered in another headline development: If the Rubins did not start out as a cigar family, they certainly are one now. Alan Rubin’s sons Alec and Bradley, now grown up and out of college, have joined their father in the business and launched their own brand—Alec & Bradley Cigars (A&B)—under the Alec Bradley corporate umbrella.
Rubin insisted that his sons develop their own blends, and invest their own money in the project “so they would have skin in the game.” He wanted them to feel some of the pressures he had experienced when starting out. They rose to the challenge with two successful introductions, the first being a cigar they called Blind Faith. Rubin says: “Both of my sons spent a lot of time in the factories and the fields developing their blend. And they sold out their first production in 10 weeks.” This was followed by a line the young Rubins called Gatekeeper; and they are now working to bring a third to market, the Kintsugi (pronounced Kint-Su-Gee).
The name Kintsugi comes from the legend of the Japanese artform Kintsugi, which posits that a 15th-century Japanese Shogun dropped his favorite vase, shattering it to pieces. He then ordered artisans to reconstruct it with gold or silver lacquer, rendering it even more beautiful.
Says Bradley Rubin: “Unfortunately, the cigar industry seems to be a bit fractured right now. We are all fighting to reduce or eliminate regulation, but there is little consensus on how to achieve this. We can all learn from the Kintsugi story. We are all better together. The passion behind premium cigars is the gold lacquer that binds.” Brother Alec adds, “Bradley and I hope that if we spread the story and spirit of Kintsugi through our cigars, colleagues and enthusiasts may one day embrace the tradition and come together for a common cause.” As of this writing, Kintsugi is on preorder, with shipping expected by end of November 2020.
Jonathan Lipson, director of marketing and a nine-year company veteran, says today Alec Bradley Cigars works with six different factories in three countries to produce a portfolio offering 29 lines. Lipson says, “We have consistently had yearly limited edition releases of Alec Bradley Fine & Rare, Black Market Filthy Hooligan and Filthy Hooligan Shamrock (both released around St. Patrick’s Day), and a Diamond Shaped Cigar. In total,” he adds, “across all lines, we have over 125 individual SKUs. Also, recently, we’ve introduced something very unique: We gave some of our territory managers the ability to blend their own cigars and release them as territory exclusives.”
Luis Rodriguez, owner of Mickey Blake’s Cigars in Southington, Connecticut, reports that dealing with Alec Bradley is a pleasure. “I can’t say enough good things about the Alec Bradley company,” Rodriguez says. “I’ve been doing this for 10 years, and can say that when you do business with Alec Bradley, you are truly part of their family. I think what sets Alan Rubin apart is that it was not so much his dream to own a cigar company as it was his passion. It was just where he always he needed to be.”
David Mallow, owner of Barrister Cigars in Union, New Jersey, says he would counsel tobacconists that doing business with Alec Bradley is “highly recommended.” He says, “They have been intricately involved with my business from the very beginning, and their products are extremely well received. If there is ever a problem, they go above and beyond to resolve it.” One example of the Alec Bradley problem-solving ethic that Mallow relates: “We did an event, but there was a shipping problem and the cigars were not going to arrive in time. So the Alec Bradley national sales manager [at the time George Sosa] and John Lipson [at the time territory director] actually drove six hours in a rainstorm to procure product for us from another location and deliver it for our event.” This is the kind of commitment that cements long-term relationships, and it speaks volumes to the Alec Bradley business philosophy.
After nearly a quarter-century, it is safe to say that Alan Rubin’s cigar company has established his family in the assemblage of great names attaching to cigar-making fame. Today Rubin is active in PCA and CRA to continue the fight against draconian anti-tobacco legislation. And his activism spans borders: Earlier this year Alec Bradley Cigars provided enough food and essentials for 700 families in Honduras to make it through a regional COVID-19 outbreak. If your store shelves could use a measure of the passion and commitment that the Alec Bradley company manifests, call them at 888.426.4397 to open an account.