As we have stated at the beginning of each of our previous company of the year award announcements, there are no strict guidelines for company of the year. It can be awarded to one of the biggest of international companies or to a fairly new startup with just a handful of employees. There is no formula, and other than counting the votes, no spreadsheets. It draws exclusively on the impressions of our four staff members who live in three different parts of the country.
Some years the decision is relatively easy, particularly when a company undergoes a reboot that launches itself back into prominence. Other times it’s because numerous moves are made the involve products, retail, personnel and beyond. The case of this year’s could be made for a number of companies–and it was amongst our panel, with well over a dozen companies being nominated. Some for opening and/or acquiring stores, others for the personnel moves made, still others for the volume and quality of cigars coming of a factory.
In the case of this year’s winner, the thought amongst our staff was that this company used 2016 to best build on one of 2015’s most anticipated debuts through the successful release of another core line, several smaller releases of additional lines and engagement with fans that ranked among some of the best in the industry, all while being an incredibly small operation, juggling arrangements with several factories and having to contend with newly introduced FDA regulation.
That company is Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust.
The first year of Steve Saka’s company was well documented both on halfwheel and thoughout cigar media, a year that was highlighted by the launch of Sobremesa, a cigar named for the period after a meal when cigars, wine and stories are shared, and a cigar that finished #2 on The 2015 Consensus.
As part of the growth in 2016, Saka announced that Sobremesa would be getting a pair of new sizes, then launching his second line, Mi Querida. While Saka had several additional lines in the works that had either been shown off, included on price sheets or simply registered with the U.S. Patent & Trademark office, the implementation of FDA regulation accelerated their release, which includes Sin Compromiso, Todo Las Días, Muestra de Saka and Umbagog, albeit in small quantities. By Saka’s own account, the company went from six SKUs to over 70 in just a year’s time, yet it didn’t feel like the company grew too fast or tried to flood the market with new cigars, store exclusives or limited editions, a bit of a refreshing change given where the industry has been in recent years.
He also stayed incredibly visible to his customers by way of Facebook, frequently posting “Saka’s Question of the Week” to stimulate conversations amongst himself and his fans. He also managed to find time for a number of events, something that is not quite as easy to do as one may think given all the responsibilities of an upstart cigar brand owner.
It goes without saying that 2017 and the coming years will be some of the most interesting that the cigar industry has seen, and it’s almost certain that a number of the companies that didn’t win this year will be in strong contention for next year’s title as their moves and decisions play out and bear fruit. But the steady and successful growth achieved by Steve Saka and his team in 2016 earned Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust this year’s company of the year award.
Honorable mention: A.J. Fernández, La Flor Dominicana and Warped.