As cigar smokers, I believe we have all had a love affair with Romeo y Julieta cigars at one point or another. Sharing a name with the prominent stage play, it is one of the most recognizable cigar brands in all of the world, and famously enjoyed by the elite of past and present.
In Fair Cuba, We Lay Our Scene
With humble beginnings, the brand got its start in 1875, founded by Inocencio Alvarez and Manin Garcia in Cuba. As factory workers, they were inspired by the Shakespearean tale, and as story has it, often requested to be read the story of Romeo and Juliet as they were rolling cigars. Alvarez and Garcia won numerous awards, earning much respect for their brand, and the success has continued to this day.
Enter: Don Pepin Jose Rodriguez Fernandez
In 1908, the Romeo y Julieta brand was bought out by businessman Don Pepin Jose Rodriguez Fernandez, former head of Cabanos factory in Havana, Cuba. Known as a cosmopolitan man of his time, Don Pepin enjoyed entertaining prominent members of high society, and was quite the enthusiast of Shakespeare and his plays. Some might even say he had an overt obsession with the Montague and Capulet tragedy in particular. Don Pepin owned a prized racehorse named Julieta, he opened a shop in Verona, Hotel Capulet, and even tried to purchase the Palazzo Capuleto, Juliet’s Villa. In a meeting with the Veronese mayor in Italy, he discussed his business proposal:
“I have come to offer you a lot of money and to ask your permission to purchase the Palazzo Capuleto. Yes, the very palazzo with the beautiful balcony on which Romeo and Juliet secretly convened. Imagine what that means for a smoker – to be able to smoke in the very rooms where the young lovers met! It would be absolutely perfect to have a young signorina, beautiful as Juliet, walk out on the balcony to join customers smoking my cigars.”
To Don Pepin’s misfortune, the shocked city authorities refused his offer, and did not want the historic site to be used for such novel business purposes.
All obsessions aside, he was remarkably successful at spreading the brand’s fame world-wide, especially among the wealthy. The Romeo y Julieta name quickly became a wildly popular symbol of status and prestige. There was even a collection of 20,000 customized cigar bands which elite members had crafted to personalize their own cigars.
Perhaps one of the most illustrious smokers of Romeo y Julieta cigars was none other than Sir Winston Churchill, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. A fan of the Parejo, a straight-sided cigar, at seven inches long with a 47-ring gauge, he pronounced these cigars to be his favorite. In return, the company named this vitola as one of their most sought-after frontmark sizes to this day, known as the Churchill.
Division Into Two Families
Not unlike the tragic separation in Shakespeare’s most famous play, Romeo y Julieta experienced a divide that forever changed their history. Due to political unrest in Cuba and the nationalization of the Cuban cigar industry under Fidel Castro, a portion of the brand parted to its current location in the Dominican Republic, while the other remained as government owned in Cuba. Don Pepin sadly passed away in 1954 before these events played out, but the name he had helped propel forward into society still remains on both the Cuban and Domestic fronts.
Today, Romeo y Julieta is a staple in the cigar industry with lines such as Romeo y Julieta 1875, Reserve, and Vintage. Altadis U.S.A.’s Master Blender Rafael Nodal has even collaborated with A.J. Fernandez to produce the Reserva Real Nicaragua, and the Plasencia Family to create the 1875 Connecticut Nicaragua. You can still find the brand’s logo proudly displaying the many tasting medals it has won over the decades, along with the 1875 date as homage to its beginnings. It is one of the most highly respected names in the industry, and does not appear to be stopping any time soon.
If you would like to start a new love story of your own, be sure to take a look at our wide selection of Romeo y Julieta cigars, and taste a piece of history.
As always, don’t hesitate to talk to one of our cigar experts to help choose your next great smoke!