“Passion goes into everything we do from our brand names to our blends to the images of the bands that they represent.”
By Randy Mastronicola
In Latin, “Veritas Sine Timore” means Truth Without Fear. That proverb was the high school motto of Chris Weber, vice president and director of marketing at Veritas Cigars. The origin of that inspiration is a good a place to begin when getting to know the man and his brand. Many cigar lovers and entrepreneurs have entertained the notion of what it would be like to establish the ultimate lounge or developing the perfect tobacco blend. In today’s cigar industry climate, realizing the dream of engineering a fine smoke takes a lot of business acumen, marketing street smarts, product knowledge, and passion. In just over four years of entering the boutique cigar landscape, Veritas Cigars has garnered a lot of enthusiastic buzz and built an evolving customer base.
Randy Mastronicola: Chris, what was the inspiration for you to move forward from your previous career path to become a cigar maker?
Chris Weber: At the time I was back in school and it was just prior to my son being born. I was sitting with my father by the fire pit on his patio and talking about the prospects of my future and that I was soon to be a father myself. I had always loved cigars. I was a partner in Cars, Bars, and Cigars. We’d host events and people would ask me: “Hey, why don’t you have your own cigars?” Cigars were always something we shared, father and son special occasions, family celebrations, very much a bond for us. So as we continued to spitball the idea, starting Veritas became a real thing for us. Four years later with my family support, we’re still here and stronger than ever. Continually growing and making a stellar smoke.
RM: What are some of your company’s unique traits that are helping you develop your brand?
CW: It might sound blasé, but we stay true to ourselves and our vision. We have never been about one particular image but a group of them that cultivate our lives. We create a family type of environment and that is shown in everything from our name to our blends and everything in between. We don’t consider retailers as customers, we consider them part of the Veritas family. The same goes for our smokers who enjoy our smoke. Passion goes into everything we do from our brand names to our blends to the images of the bands that they represent. My family is from Pittsburgh and as someone who was adopted into a family that never treated me differently, to me personally, that meant something. We operate as a close-knit group of people from diverse backgrounds where nobody holds sway over another. We keep each other in check in our individual roles. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
RM: Obviously, your roots are very important to you. How have you been able to continue to incorporate that passion into your work while growing the company?
CW: Everything we do has significance to us. We know that it’s a crowded market and you can get caught up in the goal of becoming a major player overnight. For us, staying true to our vision is key, and will sustain us long term. Our 412 blend was born from that passion. “412” being the Pittsburgh area code. I try to bring a blue-collar mindset to my work at Veritas. That’s why our cigar bands feature elements like the city’s skyline and bridges. It’s a way of paying homage to my family and our city. I feel so fortunate that I can combine the elements of family and community into the Veritas brand.
RM: How do you strive to achieve balance between volume and quality control?
CW: That has always been a simple answer for us. Sustained, controllable growth. I want to grow at a pace that allows us to not outgrow our ability to keep our smoke at the same level you have come to not only enjoy but expect from Veritas. Between the factories we currently use, Tacassa and Las Lavas, we are in the right place to ensure that is done. I will never sacrifice QC for any form of profit or gain. I poured my blood, sweat and tears into this company and I will continue to do so. Veritas is not just another cigar, it’s a lifestyle. I want to see to it that it means something to every member of the Veritas family, from coworkers to smokers. And I want them to be proud of being a part of it.
RM: What does the creative process look like at the company in regards to developing cigar brands, taste profiles, and advertising?
CW: Brands come from some aspect of the lives of those in the company. Veritas came from our namesake, true to ourselves in every aspect of what we do. In the beginning for us being a boutique seemed like an insurmountable task going up against established brands, so our Torch cigar came form the idea of “Light Your Torch and Join the Riot.” Blend profiles come from all over. Often we have even asked patrons of the shops we frequent for their idea on what they look for or even better, what they would like to see. We like to stick with guerilla style advertising. I love social media as it allows us real time interaction with our customers. Most companies, like Cigars & Spirits, have adapted to this change with new formats. In today’s world a brand owner’s most valuable tool is real time interaction with customers. And social media has given that possibility life.
RM: Your cigar bands are unique and edgy. How has that evolved at the company?
CW: Label design is a culmination of the brand designers’ image and the blend. We like to give free reign on this collaboration with the art directors as it’s often a direction that we were not originally planning. I think it’s so cool that our design is edgy and combines vintage archaic images with new. We’ve added in a touch of Steam Punk and that sets us apart in the graphics. Inspiration comes from a variety of people like Warhol, Pollock, and Frank Lloyd Wright. Of course, the quality of the blend is by far the most important aspect of what we do, but the band is what helps lead an unfamiliar customer to a particular cigar. Everything comes together in the end from name to blend to band. In the end you have something that was made with passion, and the result is nothing less than stellar. I am proud to put our name on everything that hits the shelves.
RM: Have you been able to take a step back and appreciate your initial success?
CW: Honestly, no. Our business model is based on knowing our place in the market, where we want to go, and developing a successful quality brand that other companies will want to emulate. We realize the success that we’ve had, but we focus on continuing to strengthen our brand and customer footprint. The cigar industry is home to many creative and visionary people. We don’t want to get complacent in the initial success and certainly don’t want to taint future growth. We realize that there are a lot of other amazing brands out there and it’s hard to make it in this industry let alone stay. We simply want to focus on the future and keep making a smoke that the industry can be proud of and smokers will enjoy. And we are just proud and excited to be a part of it. Fortunately, we’ve been able to develop valuable relationships within the industry. People like Carlos Sanchez, Jonathan Drew and Sam Leccia have become colleagues. It’s a very competitive field but most cigar makers and insiders have a true connection. When we can be named as part of the average smokers repertoire then we will start to acknowledge the success we have achieved. Until then we are happy just focusing on expanding our lines and blending new brands with the same quality that you have come to know us by.
RM: Can you give us a snapshot of what we should expect from you in the next year or two?
CW: Hard numbers like 500-700 store accounts is a goal for us. Fun things, like collectible pop top canisters and limited edition humidors are on the horizon. We’re very excited at the company because we’re about to debut “Three Blends” which features three distinct wrappers. We already have our cult following, and are deeply appreciative of that. The truth is, Veritas just happens to be a brand that is nationally recognized for making great smoke and known for quality. Ideally we’ll have the growth we seek and would have expanded our lines and added three to four new blends. These goals, while simple, are the foundation for our success so far and we see no need to change.
Randy Mastronicola is a freelance writer and certified life coach living in Southern California. He is a frequent contributor to Cigar & Spirits and also writes about lifestyles, pop culture, food and travel, and entertainment for other media outlets.