A Moment with ‘The Ambassador’
From his childhood in Lebanon, to his adult life in Canada and finally the United States one thing has remained constant for Vartan Seferian –his passion for fine cigars. He has brought that same passion to his work with Ambassador, transforming a life long love affair with cigars into a thriving business, establishing Ambassador as the premier purveyor of fine cigars in the valley.
Recently Vartan took a few moments to sit down and discuss cigars, Ambassador and fine living.
What is the significance of the name ‘Ambassador’?
Before opening the store I was sitting with my family talking about the name. We were throwing names around and my daughter Christine said “Ambassador”. Once she said that we thought about it and decided it was perfect. An Ambassador is someone who represents something, usually a country, but I wanted to be the Ambassador of cigars. So it fit the image I wanted perfectly.
What do you mean by ‘The Ambassador of Cigars’?
It’s a name that I’ve earned over time, with two decades now being in the business, many of my friends call me the Ambassador of Fine Cigars. That’s exactly what we do, we provide first of all the environment and selection that the finest cigar aficionado expects, but we also create an environment that’s comfortable for the novice. Often people come in who are new to cigars and ask where to start and tell us that they need the experience. We take the time to sit down, explain how to get started, teach them how to cut the cigars, how to light them–and people really appreciate that. We take them step by step through the process, and I understand not all stores take the time to do that–but we take pride in our service.
What’s the meaning of ‘1971’?
1971 was the year that I first started smoking cigars, when I turned 18, and I put it there because for me each year is an anniversary celebrating my years of smoking cigars. So in a way 1971 was the year when all this began.
What is The Ambassador Experience?
There’s more to the Ambassador experience than just coming in, buying a cigar and leaving. We give the customer full service, we don’t just tell the customer to go pick out a cigar and bring it back to the register. We ask every customer if they want help, and if they do we walk with them to the humidor, discuss their tastes and ask questions to learn and understand their palate. We’re all different individuals and taste is subjective, it’s just like anything–food, clothes, color–we have different tastes. The difference is we care about that taste and we work with the customer to match them up with the cigar that will give them the best experience, regardless of price.
We try to know every customer personally, to learn more about them and their tastes so over time we can custom design a menu for them that will best suit them as an individual. It’s about more than just relationships, it’s about friendships and that’s been the most beautiful part of all this for me. It’s been very special.
Does cigar smoking have to be an expensive hobby?
Cigar smoking is a luxury–it’s the only luxury that anybody can afford. You don’t have to buy a $40 cigar to enjoy the experience, there are three and four dollar cigars that anybody can enjoy. I make sure that every cigar we carry is the best value for the money. I carry three dollar cigars, but they’re the best three dollar cigars you’ll find on the market. We work hard to taste those cigars to make sure we’re putting the best value in the customer’s hand we can.
Working to make fine cigar smoking accessible to all walks of life is an important part of what we do. To sit here and watch a multi-million dollar CEO sit next to a blue collar worker and to watch those barriers melt away as the common love of cigars provides a common point to connect upon is a beautiful thing.
Do you taste every cigar you carry?
I taste every cigar before I buy them, after I get the first delivery and occasionally I go back and sample all of them. Of course I have my own favorite cigars, but it’s important to understand each cigar so I can ensure quality and help match my customers with cigars that are perfect for their palate. I taste every new cigar because I want to know what it is. If it’s not a good value for the money then I refuse to put it in my humidor.
If you had to define Ambassador in one word, what would it be?
“Friendship”. As I said the Ambassador Experience is about building relationships, and that doesn’t just mean between myself and the customers. The customers themselves are provided this unique environment to sit back, relax and enjoy a common thread with many different people. I’ve seen many friendships, and business relationships, come from taking the time to sit back and enjoy a fine cigar with someone else who appreciates the good life.
How is ‘friendship’ a central theme of Ambassador?
I will never forget when I first opened the store at our last location, I had a full stock ready to put in my humidor but no staff to do it. Two of my best friends locked themselves up in the store with me and said “Look, we’re going to stay here and work with you until you’re stocked and ready.” I tried to refuse but they insisted, and I’ll never forget what they did for me. That was what made me realize that Ambassador was all about friendships, not just the business, which is why I care for each and every new friend I make through the store.