Roberto Ramirez, a Grand Master Torcedor, spent 50 years making cigars for Fidel Castro. Well, not personally for him. Ramirez worked in a state-owned cigar factory in Cuba. In 1992, Ramirez made his way to Tampa and set up his own cigar store a few years later. I came upon him sitting in the window of his Ybor City shop, La Herencia De Cuba, rolling cigars.
La Herencia means “the tradition.” I was mesmerized watching him. It was as if he was creating a precious piece of art with each cigar. “He still loves rolling cigars, even after all these years,” his son Abraham said. Roberto doesn’t speak any English so Abraham translated. “We make 2 to 300 cigars a day, all hand-rolled,” Abraham said. “That comes out to about 15 boxes.” There was a woman sitting at a table beside Roberto also rolling cigars.
Roberto Ramirez was born in Cuba to a family of cigar rollers and tobacco harvesters. He was raised on a tobacco farm and by the time he was nine he had learned the art of rolling cigars by hand. In 1976 and 1988 he was named the number one cigar roller in Cuba. I asked about the U.S. embargo with Cuba and Abraham, who helps run the shop, said they use all Bolivian tobacco. “It’s good stuff,” he said. So, they were able to import a Cuban cigar maker, but not Cuban tobacco.
Roberto agreed to sit for me while I drew his caricature. Later, I wanted to ask if he knew who Art Rooney was, but my translator had stepped away. Roberto probably doesn’t even follow American football, but I like to think he would have been honored to hand-roll a stogie for “The Chief.”