I’d like to introduce you to a series of events typically reserved for the big screen or the pages of a best-selling book. It is the story of El Mago, a new cigar brand just launched by 23 year old Nicolas Fusco. Nicolas created the brand to commemorate the lives of his grandparents, and their truly remarkable journey together – one that reached across nearly 6 decades, 5 countries, 3 continents, and the entire Atlantic Ocean (three times!).
Maria and Gonzalo Torre, who Nicolas grew up calling Babi and Pepe, died together just over a year ago on the evening of June 24th, 2021. They lived in Champlain Towers South, and were home when their building suddenly collapsed.
Telling the story of how El Mago came to fruition, Nicolas writes that “It is my honor to keep their legacy alive and share their story through a tradition that was passed down from one generation to the next…the Cuban tradition of cigar smoking was passed down to me from my grandparents. My grandmother was known as a master roller and my grandfather jokingly claimed he was a “master smoker”. In classic Cuban-Miami fashion, my grandfather would smoke a cigar at the front desk of his hotel every day. On many occasions, I would join him in smoking a Cuban-style cigar, drinking Cuban coffee, telling jokes, and sharing stories.”
Gonzalo – knowingly risking his life if he were to be caught – escaped from Cuba by falsifying military orders. The bold move worked. Having made it safely out of Cuba, he arrived in Czechoslovakia where he would enroll at a local university. It was at this university where he would meet and fall in love with Maria. When they got married in their dormitory hall, it was 1965. Nicolas emphasizes that the world they were looking out on at that point was vastly different than the one we live in now. The way he puts it is that while most newlyweds now are focused on planning their honeymoon, Maria and Gonzalo were focused on fleeing communism.
According to the information El Mago has made available, the oppression eventually became unendurable. The couple sought Asylum in Canada, and in 1968 found themselves on their way toward a new beginning. Fusco shares that “with two babies and another on the way and only $100 to their name, my grandparents began the next chapter of their lives. My grandpa used to recount, with tears in his eyes, that the airport security guard could see their struggle and gave them some money as they entered a brand-new country in which they couldn’t speak the language.”
Maria and Gonzalo found work as a janitor and librarian once in Canada, work they would continue to perform for years until new opportunities took them to another new destination. In Venezuela, they kept putting in the level of work they always had and excelled within the impressive fields for which they’d actually received their degrees. Promoted to distinguished positions as a result of their obvious dedication and unwavering work ethic, they would eventually have to seek unfamiliar shores once again due to Venezuela’s failing economy.
The family settled in Miami, this time it was permanent. The couple would never have to start over in a new place ever again. By then, it was 1984. Imagine how different the world must have appeared from the view offered by the 9th floor of the Champlain Towers. Think of how much the world must have changed since that dormitory hall in 1965. It was during this time that Gonzalo invested in The James Hotel, which Fusco says is the most eclectic/Art Deco-styled hotel in Miami Beach. With the help of what would become multiple generations of his family, Gonzalo would own and operate that hotel for 30 years.
Among the most powerful details shared by Nicolas are that “the rest of their days were well-spent in this beautiful city, where they enjoyed the company of their 3 children and 6 grandchildren” and that “shortly before their passing, in a moment of triumph and elation, my grandmother turned to my grandfather and said, “we made it” as they broke down in tears and embraced each other. This very moment was the culmination of their extraordinary life story…they had succeeded against all odds.” The family continues to own and operate the hotel, the memory of Maria and Gonzalo ever present.
In an article by the Miami Herald’s Martin Vassolo, Nicolas shared simply that “I want as many people as possible to know and read about my grandparents’ life story.”
The new cigars, hand-rolled in Nicaragua, feature specially designed bands that include images of Maria & Gonzalo and The James Hotel. The first two letters of each of their names make up the “Ma” and “Go” in El Mago – which also translates to “The Wizard.” The bands also show El Mago as being established in 1965, commemorating when they were married. The Triunfante blend is named after Fusco’s grandparents’ ability to triumph against all odds. This is a Connecticut with an incredible aroma. Místico is named after the magic that was created by Maria and Gonzalo. The two-toned wrapper was designed to leave an element of surprise for the adventurous smoker. Intuición is named after his grandparents’ ability to take risks, for with great obstacles comes the need for great intuition. Pepe is named after Gonzalo “Pepe” Torre, from whom Nicolas learned how to smoke a cigar, make jokes and navigate life. “Pepe” has the strength to command an aficionado’s respect and the flavor to satisfy any pallet.
For Nicolas Fusco, “The Wizard” is an ode to his Babi and Pepe, their magic, love, life journey and incredible legacy. For the rest of us? Maybe this can be a reminder to get busy living, and to never forget Maria and Gonzalo Torre and everyone like them who never stop seeking better circumstances for their families even in the face of enormous obstacles.