In the three years since Yohanny Lopez crossed the Florida Straights on an inner tube, his life has made quite a turnaround. Using his training from the Romeo Y Juliet factory in Havana, Lopez and his uncle George Rodriguez opened Mya Handmade Cigars Factory in an industrial strip near downtown West Palm Beach. Lopez still rolls close to 100 cigars a day, like he did in Cuba, but now he's making money for himself. A steady clientele has discovered the benefits of freshly rolled cigars, and the pair has hired two employees to keep up with demand. Rodriguez lights the stogies for customers and brews potent Cuban coffee to sip in the lounge chairs. They're looking for a more visible location someday, maybe on Clematis Street or near CityPlace, where Lopez would surely be a tourist attraction. Lopez spends every day rolling cigars at a worn wood work station just off the lounge area of the small shop, visible through an open breezeway, so customers can watch. For each cigar, Lopez strips the stems out of the leaves, stuffing together Dominican, Peruvian, and Nicaraguan tobacco. The concoction is pressed in old-fashioned molds, many smuggled out of Cuba, and then rolled in Connecticut-grown wrappers. He doesn't hesitate to say they're better than the ones he rolled back home. "They're fresher," Lopez notes. "Cigars you buy, they're a year old or more. These are fresh, and fresh cigars, there is nothing better." Or cheaper. The stogies start at just $1 for what's the best, slow-burning, and richly flavorful smoke around -- at least without a trip across the Florida Straits.
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