Omar de Frias' dreams of his first career were dashed at an early age when persistent knee injuries prevented the 6'9" Dominican from pursuing a pro basketball career.
Now, more than a dozen years later, he's pursuing another dream: launching his own line of cigars. De Frias, who lives in Springfield, will officially launch his Fratello cigar line Friday at W. Curtis Draper cigar shop in Washington D.C.
"I thought I was very good but my knee didn't necessarily support my basketball habit," De Frias joked during a recent phone call.
The 34-year-old subsequently finished college in the U.S. and got his MBA in Puerto Rico. In 2004, he was recruited by NASA and moved to the D.C. area.
Then, a couple of years ago, he found himself doing some soul-searching.
"I was looking for something I could rally behind, something that I would feel very passionate about … something that wouldn't feel like work," de Frias said.
Having grown up around cigars all his childhood in the Dominican Republic, de Frias had always been an avid smoker. But that's where his knowledge stopped, so he got to work learning the business.
"Cigars are something that I've always enjoyed, but I had no idea how to make it a business," he said. "It was a bit foreign to me outside of being a consumer. So I basically started taking trips to the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua to figure out what part of the business spectrum I would fit in."
He spent two years developing his brand, from the flavor profile to the angled band — an unusual diagonal, red and white striped branding. He ended with what he calls a "complex" cigar that's made in Nicaragua with three successive flavors: first peppery, then creamier with notes of dulce de leche and cinnamon, and lastly earthy with cedar hints.
The name, Fratello, comes from the Italian word for "brother," a nickname he got in college.
"It has by far exceeded all my expectations," he said. After doing a soft launch of the product at the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR) Annual Convention & International Trade show in July, he lined up 35 stores that wanted to sell his product.