From Vision to Market – The launch of Cubariqueño Cigar Company

Juan Cancel and Kevin Keithan

Juan Cancel has always enjoyed a good cigar. He told me his love for cigars was an organic progression from consumer to brand owner. He spoke of early memories of his grandparents burning tobacco as part of the practice of their Afro-Caribbean religion. Cancel said he has always believed there was a spiritual essence to tobacco. “Our ancestors smoked pipes and there is a spirituality to the tobacco leaf,” Cancel said. “I look at tobacco as the great equalizer.”

What began early on as the awareness of the importance of tobacco leaves from his grandparent’s religious practice evolved to his enjoyment of smoking cigars as he got older. That hobby eventually turned into a passion that led to an interest in sharing his views about cigars on social media and eventually launching his own brand.

In 2015, Cancel along with two partners who shared his love for cigars, launched the Cubariqueño Cigar Co. The name was a nod to Cancel’s Puerto Rican heritage and his partner, Bill Ives’, Cuban heritage. Cubariqueño soon became known as Protocol Cigars. “Our customers and others in the industry just started calling us Protocol, because of our line of protocol cigars, and we decided to embrace it,”  Cancel said. Cubariqueño’s cigar brands are hand-rolled at the La Zona Factory in Esteli, Nicaragua.

A transition from a career in law enforcement to cigar making

Sir Robert Peel Band

Cancel and his partner Ives worked together in law enforcement before venturing into cigar-making. He spent four years as a member of the NYPD and 16 years working for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Cancel said smoking a cigar helped him relax and unwind after a stressful day at work.

I asked how Cancel went from a background in law enforcement to cigar making. He explained how a passionate hobby and interest in sharing on social media guided him along this path. He was extremely active on social media and starting posting photos of various cigars. Cancel developed quite a following and got the attention of many cigar makers. He quickly became known within the cigar community as an influencer. He was able to visit and tour cigar-making facilities in Nicaragua and gain access to industry insiders. When the idea was presented to create a brand, Cancel said it was made possible through his many connections in the industry.

The Release of Blue Protocol is met with big demand

Blue Protocol

With law enforcement close to his heart, many of his cigars pay homage, including Cubariqueño’s first release, Blue Protocol. Only 5000 cigars were produced in two sizes, Toro or Gordo. “With our own personal blend, our goal was to produce a cigar that we really loved, because we thought that we’d be smoking these 5000 cigars for the rest of our lives,” Cancel said. He needn’t have worried, the cigars sold out in only three months and the portfolio has since grown to seven brands.

Ives has since left the company to continue his career in law enforcement, where he was recently promoted to Lieutenant. Cancel has taken a new partner, Kevin Keithan, to help continue his dream of building the brand.

Custom printed cigar bands and a captivating name are important to marketing 

Cancel believes an engaging name and unique cigar bands, cigar wraps, and cigar packaging are as important as the product itself. “Ultimately, the product speaks volumes, and the printed cigar bands and packaging can dress it up in the style it deserves. It can work wonders in helping you to stand out in a cigar shop among all of the competition,” Cancel said.

The Protocol line of custom printed cigar bands are as unique as the cigars themselves. Each brand has its own custom cigar wrap to complete a look as distinct as the brand. From a high-tech silver foil embossed double band with black and bright green for the Protocol Cyber Crimes Unit cigar series to the four-color band of Protocol’s Confidential Informant, each cigar band is distinct. Protocol’s Cyber Crime Unit cigar series features an edgy endless P design with changing colors to represent Protocol.

Cigar bands reflective of individual brand

Design for Protocol’s Lawman’s Series of cigar wraps was a departure from the modern-looking cigar band to a more old-school regal look. Cancel honored the legacy of the father of modern British policing with the launch of the Sir Robert Peel Cigar by Protocol. This printed cigar ring is more traditional and sophisticated, with the cigar dressed in a gold foil embossed cigar wrap hot foil stamped with a mix of both glossy gold and matte gold foil. The custom printed cigar band also features a medallion with the likeness of Sir Robert Peel. The Sir Robert Peel wrap is an elegant tribute to the cigar’s famous namesake.

Protocol Sir Robert Peel

“Corcoran Printing has done an exceptional job in putting our vision to paper in the form of highly specialized cigar labels that are truly representative of the quality of our brands,” Cancel said. “The intricacy of the foil embossing and other print on the cigar bands is a testament to the expertise of Corcoran Printing. Had we discovered them earlier, they would have produced all of our bands.”

Protocol brand strives to shine a positive light on law enforcement

Cancel stresses that it’s important for him to pay homage to those in law enforcement, both current and throughout history. He does that with his law-enforcement-themed cigar brands, including the new Lawman’s Series. First up in that series was the Sir Robert Peel cigar we mentioned above. The second to launch is the Protocol Eliot Ness, in honor of the legendary American Prohibition agent.

“There have been many highs and lows in public perception when it comes to law enforcement,” Cancel said. “My 20 years in service was spent protecting and serving the men and women in the areas I served. My experience has been that the majority of those I served with were all good, hard-working individuals who had one goal; to protect and make a difference on the streets, then go home safely to their families. A police officer says a prayer each day to get home safely. It’s my goal to pay tribute to the men and women who go out there and risk their lives every day,” he added

A passion for cigars paved the way to an exclusive brand 

As we mentioned above, Cancel grew his influencer status and knowledge of the business through his activity on social media, presence at various cigar industry events, as well as trips to Nicaragua to tour cigar-making facilities and meet cigar-makers and others in the industry. Someone in the industry told him early on that he was “the most influential person in the industry, that’s not actually in the industry.” Everyone wanted to know what he was smoking and what his thoughts on cigars.

He also had an introduction to the industry through an annual Cigar Night Out fundraiser for the Port Authority Police Hispanic Society, which he spearheaded for many years. It was through this charitable event that he was able to meet and speak to many manufacturers, encouraging them to donate products to help raise funds for communities in need. The event eventually grew beyond the Port Authority in interest and popularity.

Looking forward to the future for Protocol Cigars 

While 2020 was a difficult year to grow a business due to the pandemic, Cancel looks forward optimistically to the future. He likens business to a highway. “Larger businesses are like semi-trucks and smaller businesses more like motorcycles. There are bumps along the road that may not even affect semi-trucks, they adjust and keep going,” Cancel said. “Motorcycles on the other hand can be negatively impacted by a bump in the road, even causing a crash. COVID was much like that this past year for smaller businesses like ours. We weren’t able to have any new releases, so it has been a hiccup for us. We’re still moving forward with plans to launch some new products this year and look forward to what the future holds.”

Protocol Brands for Cigar Lovers 

Here is a listing of Protocol’s law enforcement-themed cigar blends.

Core Line

Protocol Themis

Protocol “Blue” – Aptly named, because every police officer has to follow Protocol.
Sizes: Toro, Gorona Gordo, Lancero

Probable Cause “Red” – The burden of proof needed for police to take official action.
Sizes: Box Pressed Churchill, Corona Gordo, Lancero.

Themis “Gold” – Named after Themis, the Greek Goddess of divine law and order. She is the inspiration for Lady Justice.
Sizes: Tor, Robusto, Corona Gordo, Lancero

Official Misconduct “Silver” – When Police officers get in trouble they get charged with Official Misconduct.
Size: Toro, Corona Gordo




Newest Release

Protocol Cyber Crimes Unit

 Cyber Crime Unit “Green” – A tribute to the Law Enforcement officers that help battle crimes on the internet. This also pays homage to Kevin Keithan who works in internet security.
Size: Box Pressed Churchill

Lawmen Series

Sir Robert Peel – Considered to be the Father of modern-day policing.
Size: Box Pressed Toro, Corona Gordo

Eliot Ness – Famous prohibition agent credited with arresting Al Capone.
Size: Box Pressed Toro

Protocol Eliot Ness

Learn more about Protocol cigars online on Facebook or on Instagram @protocol_cigars.

Custom printed cigar bands

Learn more about custom printed cigar bands or foil stamping and embossing for cigar bands. Read another of Corcoran Printing’s printed cigar band blogs “Are your printed cigar bands collector worthy?”