When I think of cigars, I think of endless tobacco fields and warehouses where the leaves dry. I think of open-air factories where dozens of “rollers” hand-make the cigars under the soft rotation of overhead fans while “lectors” — readers — help workers pass the time by reading aloud from newspapers and books.
I think of wood-paneled, clubby tobacco shops such as New York’s Nat Sherman, W. Curtis Draper in the District and Georgetown Tobacco, lined with glass cases full of boxes packed with stogies. I think of walk-in humidors rich with the aroma of tobacco.
What he does have is a successful cigar brand. His Springfield, Va.-based Fratello Cigars is on track this year to sell $2 million worth from Chicago to Amsterdam. That comes to almost 250,000 smokes and around $1 million in gross revenue.
The former NASA project analyst walked away from a $200,000 (benefits included) job last fall to pursue an enterprise whose biggest assets are his smarts and persistence.