Jeff Borysiewicz has been proving doubters wrong throughout his entire professional career. In the late 1990s, Borysiewicz left his family’s successful auto repair business to establish his own mail-order cigar company. People said he was crazy to pile up more than $30,000 in personal credit card debt to establish Corona Cigar Company, but by 2001, his business proved so successful that all that debt was wiped away as Borysiewicz was busy planning to open the first Corona Cigar Company megastore in Orlando, Florida.
The entire store would be humidified and would have a massive inventory. He also obtained a license to sell beer and wine at the location. Again, critics said he was crazy to stock so many cigars and dedicate space inside his store for a smoking lounge, but today, cigar lounges and cigar bars are opening up across the country, and Corona Cigar Company now offers an impressive array of premium spirits as well. The concept has worked so well for Borysiewicz that he now owns four cigar lounges in Florida: three Corona Cigar Company locations in Orlando and a Davidoff of Geneva location in Tampa.
Despite Borysiewicz’s record of turning unique ideas into business success, the naysayers started crowing once again in 2013, when he planted his first tobacco crop on an 8-acre farm he owns in Clermont, about 30 minutes west of Orlando, with the hope of growing high-grade premium cigar tobacco in Florida once again. Five years later, Borysiewicz is selling that tobacco, known as Florida Sun Grown (FSG), to Davidoff, Drew Estate, Aganorsa Leaf (formerly Casa Fernandez Cigars) and J.C. Newman Fourth Generation Cigar Company. With his tobacco now being used in four cigar lines—Drew Estate’s FSG, the limited-edition Davidoff Tampa FSG, Corona Cigar Company’s 20th Anniversary with FSG and J.C. Newman Fourth Generation Cigar Company’s The American—Borysiewicz seems to have been right once again, but becoming a tobacco grower hasn’t been easy.
Growing up on a farm in central Florida, Borysiewicz was active in the Future Farmers of America (FFA). His office above his Sand Lake Road Corona Cigar Company location in Orlando is decorated with many photos and trophies from his days competing in various FFA contests. As a successful cigar retailer who also has his own brands, Borysiewicz has visited many tobacco fields in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras and Cuba. He was familiar with the concepts and theories of tobacco growing and knew that Florida had at one time been a big supplier of cigar tobacco to many of the cigar factories in the United States, but he wanted to know why cigar tobacco cultivation in Florida had ended.
“Florida cigar tobacco was a victim of its own success,” Borysiewicz says. “The last crop was in 1977, and Florida farmers stopped growing it because it was too expensive and they had unwittingly damaged the reputation of Florida tobacco. Florida farmers were successfully growing Cuban seed sun-grown tobacco beginning around 1900. They marketed their best tobacco and sold it as Cuban or Indonesian tobacco—that’s how the [Florida] towns Havana and Sumatra exist. The farmers could say their tobacco came from Havana or Sumatra and sell it to the factories who were none the wiser. They would keep the tariff duties they charged the factories for themselves. They would sell the lesser-
quality leaves as Florida tobacco, which damaged the reputation of the tobacco grown in the state.”
Too expensive to produce a supposedly inferior tobacco, cigar tobacco cultivation in the Sunshine State had come to an end—until Borysiewicz started thinking of reviving it. Armed with tobacco-growing guides produced almost 100 years prior, Borysiewicz forged ahead with his plans to bring Florida cigar tobacco back to the premium cigar industry.
“Tobacco doesn’t know if it’s being grown in 2018 or 1818,” he explains. “Those principles I read about in those books are the same, and the only thing that changed in the 100 years since they’ve been published was the evolution of fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides. We’re much more modern and safe now. What we’re doing here isn’t about whether it could be done. The challenge is that there is a generational gap where the people who did it are all dead. I had to figure it out, but it’s a lot easier to figure it out if you know it’s already been done.”
Putting Theory into Practice
To help him adapt to the changing conditions he’s faced over the years as a fledgling tobacco grower, Borysiewicz credits friends in the industry who have years of experience in growing tobacco. Men like Hirochi Robaina, Nestor Plasencia Sr., Eduardo Fernandez, Alejandro Turrent and Larry Palombo have visited his Clermont farm and offered advice—or they’ve invited him to visit their own growing operations to share their secrets.
Borysiewicz cites an example of the help he’s received from these men. With the first crop, Borysiewicz planned on sewing the leaves together on sticks for hanging in the curing barn by hand, just as he had seen done on countless tours of Nicaraguan, Honduran and Dominican tobacco farms. That experiment, he says, turned out to be a disaster—the people he hired just couldn’t sew the leaves fast enough. Palombo introduced him to a retiring Connecticut tobacco farmer who sold him purpose-built machines for sewing leaves onto sticks.
Quality has been a hallmark of Borysiewicz’s FSG success. It also has a unique flavor and aroma that Borysiewicz describes as “sweet, spicy and leathery.” Others have detected a citrus flavor, and one reviewer even compared the tobacco’s taste to Root Beer Barrels candy. No matter what flavors a consumer experiences while enjoying a cigar with FSG tobacco, it’s clear that the tobacco is proving to be a big hit. Cigars using the tobacco have been gaining popularity among consumers in the U.S., based mainly on the strength of Drew Estate’s FSG cigars, which have been on the market for several years. The tobacco plays the starring role as wrapper leaf in the blend for J.C. Newman’s Fourth Generation Cigar Company’s The American, which debuted in May.
His only goal each year is to fill his single curing barn; that will supply all the FSG tobacco necessary to meet his customers’ demands. So if it doesn’t make money and requires so much work, why does Borysiewicz even bother with the project? Purely for the passion of it.
“I just wanted to create great tobacco,” he concludes. “I wanted to bring Florida tobacco back and give cigar blenders another option to use when creating their blends. Ultimately, I’d love to blend cigars with Cuban and Florida tobaccos because that’s the way it used to be. It’s about re-creating a lost art.”
This story first appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of Tobacco Businessmagazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.
– By Stephen A. Ross, senior editor of Tobacco Business Magazine.