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Armado Ramos Cigars smoke out success

WOODBRIDGE — Back in the '90s, after a couple decades in the ad game, Paul Magier was heading for a career change. Then his housekeeper handed him a cigar.

It was the greatest smoke he'd ever had.

He told his told his wife, Mindy, he was getting on a plane to go find the unbranded cigar, He set off for his adventure in Nicaragua, landing in Managua without even a hotel reservation.

"I was on a mission to find this particular cigar," Magier, who turns 50 this month, said earlier this week at the Woodbridge headquarters of his cigar company, Puros de Armando Ramos.

He expected to find a store and speak with the manager about how to procure the cigars. Instead he arrived at an open-air market in a field where more than 1 million people shop every day, he recalled.

Once he was able to buy a cigar he hired a guide and began his trek searching the countryside for the factory that produced them.

Once he found the factory in Esteli, Magier purchased nearly 3,000 of his prized cigar.

From his hotel room in Managua, he started pitching the cigars over the phone to shops back in New York.

He packed the products in his luggage, declared them at customs and paid the fee when he re-entered the United States from Nicaragua.

"By the time I got home I was officially in the cigar business," he said.

With the help of his family, he transformed the basement of his East Brunswick into cigar central.

"I would print bands on my computer," Magier said. "My kids cut them out with scissors and put them on the cigars."

After establishing relationship ws with tobacco farmers, his company, C.I.G.A.R. (Consortium of Independent Growers and Rollers) bought tobacco from growers in Ecuador and other Central and American countries and had them rolled into product in places like the Ironbound section of Newark.

In 1998, Magier met Armando Ramos, who had a little cigar shop on 8th Avenue and 28th Street in New York City, and the two quickly established a rapport, Magier said.

"We seemed to be very simpatico right away," Magier said.

Ramos, a one-time cigar roller in Cuban, was a businesses man with the high-powered clientele and great cigars.

Magier bought Puros de Armando Ramos, getting the rights to the brands and the operations in Ecuador. Magier's company established working partnerships with families and growers in Central America.

"I wanted to put together an intelligent cigar operation in the U.S.," Magier said.

The cigar-manufacturing company had revenues of $2 million last year, and has 8 employees in New Jersey and about 80 in Ecuador.

The smokable products, with names like LUCKY8, Primero de Fabrica, and Quadrado, retail from $1 to $16, Magier said.

Retailer Ralph Seber, owner of Lighthouse Cigars stores in Old Bridge and Hazlet, has been doing business with Magier for five years.

"Most of his cigars are good movers, Seber said, adding that Magier has recently added some products that sell in the $3-$5 range to his higher-end lines that retail for $8-$10. "He's going for another little corner of the market."

Magier's customer service is different than what larger companies offer, Seber said.

"He's a small company so he's a little more personable," Seber said. "If I've got any problems I talk right with him, not someone who just works for the company."

Magier achieved some notoriety in the late '90s when he purchased 46,000 pounds of Cuban tobacco that had been stored in a Miami warehouse since the '50s, before the U.S. government embargo on importing products from the island nation.

He had his doubts about buying the product "until I knew I wouldn't go to jail, that was the most single most important question I had," he said.

The tobacco, some of it nearly 50 years old, had been kept in an environmentally controlled warehouse in Miami. Magier said the aged leaf had a more mellow taste with less bite than the typical Cuban-grown plants.

"Tobacco is like wine. It gets better for a period of time, it stops getting better, and then it gets worse," he said.

Magier produced 750,000 cigars from the tobacco from 1999 and 2006, and the sale of the Cubans generated some controversy among the cigar-selling and -smoking community.

Consumers, retailers, and industry experts had doubted the veracity of Magier's story that it was indeed Cuban product.

"I had the papers to prove it, he said.

Magier said selling the Cubans has been a blessing and a curse, with constant calls from people who want to buy some.

Despite the trials of being in business, Magier said he feels blessed.

"I realized my dream, and it;'s still growing, still changing," he said. "I'm still getting surprises everyday."

Source: New Brunswick Home News Tribune