Entrepreneur Howard Gumbs Jr. has never balked at a challenge, and after launching Howard G Cigars amidst the pandemic, he has never looked back. A true brother of the leaf, Howard is building his legacy with the All-Pro Series and his newest line, The Perfect Round. Howard talks to Cigar Life Guy about his start in the industry, smoking with Avo Uvezian, and the best part about cigar life — forging lasting relationships while enjoying a premium cigar.
Howard Gumbs Jr.: First Premium Smoke
Cigar Life Guy: Tell me about your first premium cigar experience.
Howard Gumbs Jr.: I’ve been smoking cigars for sixteen years. The very first cigar I smoked was Rocky Patel Decade 1990. I was in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I was with a gentleman named Duncan, a cousin of a business partner, and I remember smoking that at a place called Twigs, and that was my first time smoking a premium — a Rocky Patel.
Learning the Cigar Life
Cigar Life Guy: Tell us how you got started in the cigar industry. What did you do before, and how does it help inform what you do with your current business?
Howard Gumbs Jr.: I got in the cigar business differently here in Orlando. I had the privilege and honor of smoking a few days a week with Avo Uvezian. So, I’m in the cigar business because of Avo. One day, we sat outside together, and he said, “Howard, you should be in the cigar business.”
And I said, “Why do you say that, Papa,” and he said, “Because you love the people like I love the people.” It was a shocking thing. He believed me. About six or seven months after that, a buddy of mine said the same thing that Avo said. He had a brother who owned fifty percent of a factory. So, it went from mindset to putting it into action.
As far as business, I’ve always been an entrepreneur. I have multiple companies. The cigars started from that relationship, but it’s the same mindset as other businesses. It transferred to the cigar business because of all of the connections.
Cigar Community and Cigar Culture
Cigar Life Guy: You have stressed the connections you can make while sharing a premium cigar. What makes the cigar community and cigar culture so unique?
Howard Gumbs Jr: What makes it special is we have something in common. Typically, you’re not in a rush when you’re smoking a cigar. You’re gonna sit down, you’re gonna cut it, you’re gonna light it. You’re going to have a beverage with it.
Enjoy that time. You have forty-five minutes to an hour and a half where you’re relaxing. You’re not worrying about what happened at work, you’re not worrying about business, you’re not worrying about any other issues, but you’re just enjoying that cigar.
Many people I meet talk about the moment they get off work and the excitement just to come and smoke their cigars and socialize for an hour and a half. That is one of the things I associate with the cigar life. Also, you must always find out who you’re sitting down with. One of the things with the cigar community is you need to know who in the world you’re sitting next to. There are a lot of times I’ve had Fortune 500 CEOs sitting next to a janitor. We’re all smoking cigars. The one thing that we have in common is that leaf. No matter which cigar you’re smoking, we’re all sitting there enjoying it.
Launching During the COVID-19 pandemic
Cigar Life Guy: You started Howard G. Cigars in 2020 amidst the pandemic. What was that like? What challenges did you face, and how did you overcome them?
Howard Gumbs Jr.: I only had a few challenges. What happened was the cigars were made in 2019. I wanted to release the cigar when I had the proper boxing. When the pandemic occurred and the world shut down, I was told, “Hey, there’s so many people stuck at home, why don’t you just get the cigars out?”
The cigars were ready, so I just got them out and put them in different packs of four. Then I looked at my database of personal friends — palates I trust, guys I know that they are serious smokers. So, I just took that time to send out the product. I sent out the product and asked for honest feedback. Take away friendship. Take away how you feel about me.
Nothing is going to hurt my feelings. If you hate it and think it’s trash, tell me it’s trash. Tell me if this cigar could be in your wheelhouse because you’re an experienced smoker. Those are the things that I did during the pandemic.
So, during 2020, when people were sitting at home, it launched us across the country just with friends. First, people said, “Hey, he said he was going to do something, and he actually did it,” and second, “The sticks were great!”. 87% of the feedback was exceptional. We knew we were on to something. From that point on, we decided to continue.
We take it seriously. So, we go to the shows where the large retailers are, to PCA. And we go there with the mentality that we’re in the game for the long haul.
We’re going to keep on expanding and growing. Our goal is always to get better by one percent a day and continue to create and build on lasting relationships and great products like the legacy brands that have come before us.
The All-Pro Series with Howard Gumbs Jr.
Cigar Life Guy: You have cigars commemorating former NFL stars Leon Searcy and Ike Taylor. How did you forge those relationships, and what’s the story behind the collaboration?
Howard Gumbs Jr.: There’s not a significant story behind it. Those are my brothers. I already knew that Black Moses would become a series, and Magic Stick would also become a series.
I also knew I wanted to do an All-Pro series, but when I had the idea, I wanted to ensure that my athletes seriously smoked cigars. It wasn’t just guys who smoked a cigar when they had a child or who smoked because their team won a championship.
I wanted somebody who appreciated and loved the cigar community. People smoke when the lights are not on, the cameras are not on, and nobody is looking. People that sit down and have a couple of sticks. That was my mindset.
So the first person I thought of was” Big Searc,” Leon Searcy. We smoked cigars together for years. Leon would come to my house, and in five hours of hanging out, seven cigars would magically disappear out of my humidor. He wasn’t taking cigars for souvenirs but smoking them (laughs). So I told him, “How about we do an All-Pro Series with Leon Searcy? You’ll be the first cigar in the All-Pro Line,” he said, “Howie, I love it!”.
From there, we went through his favorite cigars, found his palate, and created the perfect cigar for him. Once he gave the seal of approval, we shot a video and went ahead and put it out on the market.
Ike Taylor was a little different. He was a Steelers legend. The Steelers have one of the biggest fan bases along with my Dallas Cowboys, so I wanted to gear it toward that.
We went through forty different blends for Ike. Every time we narrowed it down, we realized Ike’s favorite wrapper was a Sumatran. So his blend is eighty percent Nicaraguan, but we added twenty percent Lancaster, PA tobacco because he is Steeler. So that was different.
Both cigars have been doing phenomenally well. We appreciated the love we received from Steelers Nation and the Jaguars because of Leon and his affiliation being a top fourteen Jaguar of all time.
Howard Gumbs Jr.: The Perfect Round
Cigar Life Guy: You recently released The Perfect Round. What’s next for Howard G. Cigars?
Howard Gumbs Jr.: Perfect Round is our golf line. Here in Orlando, where I live, the amount of golf tournaments we’ve been at physically or sent products to has doubled nearly yearly.
We have friends who play golf religiously. Some guys that out of 365 days, they’re playing a minimum of 200. That’s profound love. Tee time is typically seven, eight, or nine a.m., so we wanted to come out with a cigar to help you with the front nine and start your day. It’s a 52 by 7. It’s our first Dominican blend — very well-aged tobacco. The construction of the cigar is fantastic. But it’s a Connecticut Shade because we want you to start on the front nine with a milder cigar. Typically, you’re not drinking alcohol that early in the morning, so milder is best.
Once we get to the back nine, you tend to have had something to eat, and maybe you’ve had a spirit or two, so we wanted to strengthen the Back Nine. If you’re going to finish stronger on the back nine, we’re also giving you a more robust cigar.
The Back Nine has a Habana wrapper but the same binder as the Front Nine. Put them together, and it’s an eighteen-count box — nine Front Nines and nine Back Nines.
That cigar has done exceptionally well. We sold out in pre-orders at PCA. The reviews from that cigar in our official launch last week were incredible. We’re excited about that.
We’re excited about what we’re doing. Right now, we constantly have events lined up around the country. We’re just having a good time. Be on the lookout for things we’ll be bringing out.
Cigar Life Guy: Have we missed anything? Please tell us anything else you’d like the cigar world to know.
Howard Gumbs Jr.: We have our phrases at Howard G Cigars. “We got action.” is one. Another one is, “We’re slinging cigars,” and the last term is, “You want this smoke.”
Photo credit: Howard G Cigars