Founders Cigars: Creating Community, American-style

Founders Cigar Company was established during the early days of the COVID pandemic when people everywhere were just trying to find their footing. Stores were closing, or limited to curbside service. No one knew how long the disruptions would last, and opportunities for community among cigar fans were becoming hard to find. To Angelo Fraboni and Brian Schmittdiel, circumstances only reinforced the idea that cigars could be a source of bonding for people. Community was, more than ever, a crying need.

Founders Cigar Company

Fraboni and Schmittdiel were already partners in business, in the firearms industry, before they ever conceived the idea of starting a cigar brand. Fraboni, a native Minnesotan, received a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Minnesota and got his professional start as a mechanical engineer before going into sales, and he did very well. This was before he and Founders co-founder Schmittdiel started a firearms consulting business together.

Fraboni began as a pipe smoker, and moved on to cigars. Schmittdiel, an active Air Force man— “military to the core,” he says—joined up 21 years ago right out of high school. His father smoked pipes and cigars (a big Rocky Patel fan). The first cigar Schmittdiel ever smoked was on the back of a HumVee while he was on deployment.

Says Fraboni, “Brian and I met each other in 2017. He worked for a trigger manufacturer near Minneapolis, and we started shooting three-gun together. He also worked for a couple of software start-ups and brings a sales and operations background.” It was in October of 2020 that the men first entered the cigar business.

Fraboni says the two had been brought on to turn a coffee company around, and it was when that gig came to an end in the summer of 2020 that the idea of starting a cigar company of their own took hold. He says, “I had considered all kinds of ideas in the gun industry, but then that would put us in competition with our clients.” They needed a thing of their own. “We had been smoking cigars with a group of guys every Tuesday, and we loved cigars,” Fraboni says. “So we launched the brand first, and then the cigars followed. After we had reached out to 11 or 12 manufacturers, one of them responded with some samples, and as it happened they did bands, too.” 

Founders Cigar Company

The company name, Founders, was conceived in homage to the American spirit, with each cigar line named for one of our country’s founders, or for some person who at least was instrumental in establishing the nation, to encapsulate “the spirit of having the courage to do what’s right,” as Schmittdiel puts it. He adds, “And there are so many names to choose from in our nation’s history that the room for naming new lines is endless—people who had a significant moral, ethical, or philosophical contribution to our country’s history.” Moreover, Schmittdiel, says, “Founders just has a good cadence for an American brand name.” The company’s primary icon or logo is a George Washington silhouette.

It was in mid-2021 that the two men realized they had real growth potential and “needed to push the cigars,” says Fraboni. Their first full sales year was 2022—“a great year for us,” he recalls. “But 2023 is the year when we kind of remodeled everything.” Schmittdiel was on deployment, with Fraboni running the infant company alone, so the men took a step back to build and evolve the business—“new bands, new factory, new boxes, new presentation,” says Fraboni. “And then we launched Founders Fulfillment, doing fulfillment for small and medium-sized cigar brands.” The two share a financial interest with Founders CFO Josh Eifert, a Minneapolis banker; and Joe Haider, a retired police officer and veteran, rounds out the team at the warehouse.

All Founders cigars, except the candela-wrapped Hamilton, are manufactured at the Tabacalera Las Lavas SRL factory, located in Santiago, Dominican Republic. (The Hamilton is made at the MJ Frias factory in Tamboril.) Their office and warehouse are located in the Minneapolis suburb of Blaine, Minnesota. Today Founders cigars are sold in 30 states and about 60 shops.

Founders Cigar Co. | 2023 Rebranding

Presently, Founders Cigars is marketing five lines—all of them blended to be approachable smokes in 6” x 50 toro, and all carrying a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $10 per stick:

Signature Dual Wrap

This is the cigar that got Founders off the ground.

  • Wrapper: Mexican San Andrés Maduro and Connecticut Dual Wrap
  • Fillers: Piloto Cubano Seco, Piloto Cubano Ligero, Broadleaf Viso
  • Binder:Dominican Olor

Douglas Habano

This cigar offers notes of cedar, coffee, cream, leather and toast.

  • Wrapper: Habano
  • Fillers: Piloto Cubano Seco, Nicaraguan Seco, and Broadleaf Viso
  • Binder: Habano

Franklin Connecticut

Notes of caramel, coffee, cream, spice and toast take center stage here.

  • Wrapper: Connecticut
  • Fillers: Piloto Cubano Seco, Piloto Cubano Ligero, Broadleaf Viso
  • Binder: Dominican Olor

Hamilton Candela

This is the one cigar in the Founders portfolio that is made at the MJ Frias factory. It offers flavors of cream, earth, leather and toasted bread.

  • Wrapper:Ecuadorian Candela
  • Fillers: Seco Negrito from the Dominican Republic, Honduran Seco Piloto Cubano and Viso Corojo from Jalapa, Nicaragua
  • Binder:Nicaraguan

Roosevelt Maduro

This cigar features notes of cream, earth, nuts, oak and unsweetened cocoa.

  • Wrapper: San Andres Maduro
  • Fillers: Piloto Cubano Seco, Piloto Cubano Ligero, Broadleaf Viso
  • Binder: Dominican Olor

Schmittdiel says, “The core vision of the company is uniting people from all walks of life. We’ve taken the approach that our actual, ultimate product is community, and we’re using cigars as a catalyst.” As Fraboni puts it, “Cigar smoking is something that is shared. That’s why you do herfs. It’s why people go to lounges and make time to sit down for a smoke. It doesn’t matter who you’re married to, who you voted for or what color your skin is. All of the decisions we have made in establishing Founders were made with building community in mind. Making memories with a cigar in your hand is more meaningful than making a memory with a phone in your hand.”

Merchants interested in opening an account with Founders Cigar Company can find contact information at the company website,

– Photography courtesy of Founders Cigar Co. Story by William C. Nelson.

This story first appeared in PCA The Magazine, Volume 4, 2023. To receive a copy of this magazine you must be a current member of PCA. Join or renew today at