Family traditions that create a home away from home

Angelo Bello – Owner, Cuba Tobacco Cigar Company, Miami, FL

Feature | Miami, FL | 03 June 2021
Started in 1896 by the Bello family in Havana Cuba, the cigars are 100% hand made with rolling techniques that have been passed from generation to generation. Master cigar rollers go through intense training in addition to having over 15 years of cigar making experience. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
The incredible aroma of uniquely spiced cuisine fills the air of bustling restaurants set among lively businesses on a street lined with colourful mosaics, murals and artwork set against the rhythmical beat of clacking dominos.

Welcome to Little Havana’s Calle Ocho, the vibrant centre of Cuban culture in the United States.

In the midst of this constant flow of people, music and scents of culinary delights, you will find Miami’s oldest cigar factory: the Cuba Tobacco Cigar Company.

“This factory started in 1896 in Havana, Cuba and we moved it to the States,” says Angelo Bello, a proud fifth generation cigar maker whose family emigrated from Cuba.

“We continue the business the same way that was done in Cuba,” Angelo explains. “The cigar rolling techniques, we use have been passed on from generation to generation.”

As one of the oldest Cuban cigar families in the industry, it is clear that the secret to their success is the knowledge and experience that has been passed down from father to son for generations. The result is a successful sale of over a million cigars per year.

“We don't use machines, all cigars are 100% pure handmade by us,” Angelo proudly reveals, a confirmation that the Bello family’s fine artistry of cigar making continues to produce some of the most exquisite and supreme cigars.

The Cuba Tobacco Cigar Co, in Little Havana, Miami, sells over a million cigars a year and has received many awards. The family recipes, knowledge, and experiences passed down for generations is a contributing factor to the business’ continued success. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
Angelo says that the soul of their product are the seeds, the climate and soil used to grow the tobacco. “We use Cuban tobacco seed. Cuba is world famous for having one of the best tobacco leaves in the world. The other part has to do with the climate and soil that it is grown in,” Angelo states.

He says that they grow Cuban tobacco seeds in Nicaragua where the family has another cigar factory. The climate and the quality of the soil in Nicaragua are very similar to that of Cuba which makes it a perfect climate for top shelf tobacco leaves. “If you try to grow it outside of a region where it's so-so soil, and the climate is not right, it's going to be a bad product,“ Bello states passionately.

“The fact that it comes from Cuban seed, which is high class premium tobacco, and the fact that is hand-rolled, that's what kind of makes it stand out from other cigars,” Angelo affirms with a confident grin.

The Bello’s family business has won many prestigious awards and honors including the Crystal Leaf Award for a lifetime of excellence in producing cigars. This was awarded to Angelo’s father Don Pedro Bello.

Upon entering the shop, you will encounter an endless stream of locals, cigar aficionados and tourists pouring over the wide variety of products on display. Set among this mass flow of people are master cigar rollers seated around the store working their craft right in front of these visitors.

The master rollers effortlessly perform the delicate hand movements that slice, shape and massage these leaves into the quality products for which they are renowned. Their almost rhythmical movements hide the fact that is takes years of intense training and years of experience to become a master cigar roller.

“To learn how to roll cigars in Cuba it's a nine-month process, but to be classified as a master cigar roller, you have to have over 15 years of experience in making cigars,” says Bello. He adds that they have three master rollers in Miami, and they send master rollers to Nicaragua to train people on how to roll the cigars.

“You’ll find master rollers in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and even in the States, but you usually won’t find them in Central America,” emphasizing how rare this skill is. When asked if he is a master roller with a chortle he says, “I'm a master smoker but not a master cigar roller.”

As a fifth generation Bello born into the cigar industry, Angelo says that the industry as whole is changing, as are the clientele. Today, a diverse demographic are purchasing cigars including millennials and women as opposed to the stereotype of just older men. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
This year marks an incredible 125 years of Bellos in the cigar industry. Angelo explains that there have been a few changes in the industry and in the demographic of smokers.

”People are more health conscious, and the industry has taken a more modern approach. Cigars used to be very old fashioned, classic, and with one type of leaf. Nowadays they’ll get a light leaf, black leaf and a green leaf and twist all three into one cigar, something very modern and extravagant,” he notes.

“Back in the day you would have mainly gentleman smokers but now we see a lot of millennials who love to smoke, and certainly more women.”

As a father of two young girls who were born into the industry just as he was, Angelo is open to the idea of them entering the business, should they choose to in the future. “It’s definitely a possibility,” he says smiling.

When talking about what work means to him and his community Angelo answers, “We’re very hardworking people. Everybody in the Little Havana community is. It’s mainly small businesses here and most are family owned and operated, and anyone who comes here can see that we have a very hard work ethic.”

After a long day, Angelo returns to his office in the back of the store to relax as he prepares his cigar. He takes a long draw and lets the smoke gently wafts around him. He leans back and enjoys the familiar view of the energetic streets of Little Havana in a city that he loves.