Behind the Nat Sherman Cigar Empire
BY JOHN BOBEY
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MICHAEL TUREK
When Sigmund Freud allegedly said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” he obviously wasn’t standing in the Nat Sherman Townhouse, the home of an astonishing collection of super-premium cigars. Much like wine, coffee, or tea, tobacco displays all the elements of terroir, exhibiting the unique qualities rooted in where and how it was grown. Nat Sherman cigars are crafted with an artisanal approach and are intended to be enjoyed as the handcrafted works of art they are.
It’s an approach that’s working. The Nat Sherman Townhouse is a destination for cigar aficionados known all over the world, and even on their first visit, customers are treated like regulars. This adherence to the highest quality products and service, coupled with an old-school work ethic, has Nat Sherman poised for a bright future. With this month’s debut of the Timeless Collection, a proprietary blend that honors the brand’s history while catering to the preferences of today’s smoker, they’re continuing their legacy of defining and addressing what New York cigar smokers want. “I say there is only one expert,” offers Joel Sherman, “and that is the fellow who is smoking the cigar.”
“It is something we are proud about, something that we respect tremendously, and something that is part of our social fabric,” says Bill Sherman of the company’s New York history. “That was my grandfather. That is who we are, and we try to maintain those same values. That is what makes us special and uniquely New York. The number of times people come walking by the front of the store, just wanting to take a picture of the plaque or the storefront—it is iconic New York. They respect it as being part of what makes the city special, and that is something we don’t take lightly.” Echoes Joel, “It might have gotten a little more dressed up over the years, but this is the quintessential New York joint.”
|The Townhouse, Nat Sherman’s flagship store|
It’s a swell joint at that. Polished woodwork lines the walls, with tobacciana gleaming inside dramatically lit cabinets. The walls are dotted with framed letters of praise from John Wayne, Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, and American presidents. Upstairs are private offices and a reception area complete with a baby grand piano. The downstairs level houses the humidor and private lockers of notable New York smokers, as well as the Johnson Club Room, named for the company’s matriarch, Lautia “Johnson” Sherman. Leather and oak abound, with Deco flourishes and vintage photography that make it a must-see for those who appreciate the finer things.
All In the Family
The Shermans don’t take the family part of their business for granted. Joel wouldn’t let any of his offspring into the fold until they had worked somewhere else first. Bill says his father, Joel, explained the philosophy as this: “If I have to teach you everything that I know, then you’ll never teach me anything.” Joel says what his father, Nat, was really trying to get across was “a feeling self-worth. You develop a sense of being able to earn your own living.” After more than 80 years in business, Nat Sherman and the family behind it qualify as a true New York institution. The city wouldn’t be the same without them, and with another generation of Shermans on deck, it looks like their legacy is secure. “I hope we build something in this family that they want to continue,” says Bill of his children, nieces, and nephews. “What we have is really exciting—the camaraderie, tradition, and history. All the things that are important as family they see in our generation, and it excites them as they grow up.”