It’s a bit full circle. Spence Drake will once again be selling HR Habano.
Drake, the former Cubanacan vp of sales, is launching White Hat Tobacco, his own distribution company that will be the exclusive U.S. distributor of HR Habano and future brands from Cuban tobacco grower Hirochi Robaina.
“It’s an exciting opportunity for me to work with people I really respect and trust completely,” said Drake. “I have a lot to learn, and look forward to learning from some of the best.”
Drake told halfwheel he plans to begin distributing HR Habano no later than March. He will oversee a team of eight independent sales representatives and brokers. At the 2016 IPCPR Convention & Trade Show, he plans to launch two new lines from Hirochi Robaina, one priced around $8-11 and another at $12-15. Both are substantially less expensive than HR Habano, which retails for around $20 per cigar.
Robaina, the grandson of the legendary Alejandro Robaina, came to the U.S. market in the form of HR Habano, a cigar produced by Omar González-Alemán of the Estelí-based La Corona factory and distributed by Cubanacan Cigars. Shortly before the IPCPR Convention & Trade Show last July, González split from Cubanacan and later filed a lawsuit alleging trademark infringement and non-payment.
Since then, distribution of the HR Habano brand has been in a limbo. While there’s no evidence that Cubanacan owns the trademarks for HR or HR 1845, the validity of the distribution agreement in face of the allegations of non-payment remains a question. For the last few months, multiple cigar companies have told halfwheel they have considered bringing Robaina on board, but many have declined because of the ongoing litigation.
Shortly after González and Robaina announced their intentions to split with Cubanacan, La Palina announced it was working on a new project with Robaina. In October, Cubanacan added La Palina to its countersuit. It is seeking $75 million in alleged lost sales.
The HR Habano blend remains the same as it was when the cigar launched in late 2014. The González family is still responsible for producing the cigar, although it’s now taking place at their new, larger Estelí-based factory.
“The things that are being done at the La Corona Factory in Esteli are truly special,” said Drake. “Omar González and his son Luis Omar are doing things the right way. They have built a sustainable model with a significant inventory of exceptional tobacco, all of which has been processed by Omar himself. When you have great tobacco and a master blender like Omar, there is a lot to be excited about. ”
White Hat Tobacco will also be the exclusive distributor for González’s brands, but it remains to be seen what the family’s portfolio will look like. It currently only includes the Soneros brand, but Drake indicated that wasn’t part of the immediate future.
“Soneros is on the back burner while we focus on the Robaina Family Brands,” said Drake. “Everything for 12 months will be focused on Robaina.”
As for when Hirochi Robaina will return to the U.S. for events, it will likely be in April. Drake told halfwheel he expects Robaina to do less events than he did in late 2014, focusing on larger events.
Drake most recently served as the national sales director of Cornelius & Anthony. He left that position earlier this month.