Zaya 2 resized

El Septimo Cigars is on a Mission to Offer the Ultimate Smoking Experience.

By: Tobacco Business

In the biblical story of creation, which is told in the first chapters of Genesis, God created night and day; the heavens and the earth; dry land and sea; plant life; the stars, sun and moon; the birds and sea creatures; every kind of wildlife and humanity—all in six days. At the end of each day’s work, He surveyed His creation and declared it good. On the seventh day, He rested from all the work that He had done. Only God knows how He spent His day of rest, but Zaya S. Younan—the tremendously successful businessman and owner of La Grande Maison Younan Collection, which includes El Septimo Cigars­—likes to think that maybe, just maybe, He might have relaxed with a cigar. The Great Creator’s seventh day of rest and relaxation is indeed the inspiration for El Septimo Cigars.

In Latin, “El Septimo” means “the seventh,” as the brand’s entire reason to exist is to help discerning cigar connoisseurs maximize their moments of relaxation with only the best cigars possible. Since it was founded in 2005, the Swiss-based company has gone to great lengths to redefine the standards in making an excellent cigar. El Septimo Cigars is a brand of ultra-premium, luxurious cigars that encompasses more than 40 different variations—many of which are cigars with ring gauges of 50 or more to contain all of the tobaccos necessary to blend the elegant but complex flavors and aromas for which El Septimo Cigars are known throughout the world. Younan is betting that the brand’s popularity in Europe and Asia will also be replicated in the United States. A cigar smoker for 30 years, Younan came across El Septimo while visiting Paris a few years ago. Upon finishing that El Septimo cigar, Younan declared it good—so good, in fact, that he bought the company a few years later.

“Smoking that El Septimo was an incredible experience,” Younan explains. “On the flight home from Paris, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. When I got home, I tried smoking my other cigars, and I could not forget the flavor and experience I had when smoking an El Septimo. It is an exceptional cigar, and nothing I have had comes close to it. The product was never marketed in the United States until now, so American cigar smokers are now learning about El Septimo, and I’d like to invite every one of them to do one thing: "Just try one, because I know they’re going to love it.”

Zaya Younan | El Septimo Cigars

Where Passion is the Driving Force
After a few years of negotiations with El Septimo’s previous ownership, Younan bought the company in March 2019, thus adding it to his growing collection of luxury businesses. Younan is the chairman and CEO of The Younan Company, a private equity firm with the subsidiary companies Younan Properties, a commercial real estate management company that owns and manages office buildings in the 10 largest U.S. cities; and La Grande Maison Younan Collection, which includes hotels, resorts, golf courses, a luxury design firm, wine and spirit companies, and El Septimo Cigars. Younan devotes more time to El Septimo’s daily management—with it being the smallest of all the companies he owns—than any of his other companies because it’s the one business that’s the closest to his heart.

“El Septimo is the smallest company I own, and yet I’m the most active in it because I love the product,” Younan says. “I’m very active in the daily management and new product development, many of which we will be introducing very soon. Luxury products like El Septimo cigars enhance people’s lifestyles and make the world a better place. My career focus has always been making the world a better place for everyone.”

Indeed. Younan obtained a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois in 1985 and then began working for General Motors (GM). While at GM, Younan spearheaded the development of airbags for automobiles and spent much of the early parts of his career perfecting the devices and working on other inventions, such as keyless entry systems, navigation systems and variable temperature seats, just to name a few.

“I was one of the original inventors of the crash sensor airbag,” Younan says. “It started as an experiment, as I wanted to do something that could save the occupants’ lives no matter how fast they drove into an obstacle. That’s how the concept came up. I would be doing my own family good if I could somehow impact the world in a way that would benefit everybody. It became an unbelievable drive and mission of mine to continue to try to improve the world.”

He was fast-tracked in GM to managerial positions in all of the company’s business segments. He then moved on to Johnson Controls when he was just 24 years old to build 15 production plants for automotive components. By the early 1990s, venture capitalists and investment bankers were recruiting Younan to lead various endeavors, which included software companies, consumer electronic products, aerospace companies, and businesses within the oil and gas industries. In 2001, he established Younan Properties, a commercial real estate firm. Within six years, it was worth $4 billion and became the largest private real estate company in the U.S.

“My engineering education allowed me to become an innovator and a great problem solver,” Younan explains. “I learned that every problem has a solution, and the challenge is trying to find it. I have also had a lot of passion and drive. It is really easy to make a transition into a different industry and achieve success when you have that passion and drive, especially when you start with nothing. Every incremental gain is fuel to drive more success. What really drives me in life in general is doing things that others cannot do or have not been able to do. That combination of things has allowed me to get into new industries that I haven’t been in before, learn them, master them and operate very successful businesses in different sectors.”

While Younan has done a mighty amount of good with inventing products such as airbag systems—an invention that has undoubtedly saved millions of lives—he’s drawn to the luxury and leisure industries for their ability to improve the quality of people’s lives. Since 2015, Younan has expanded his business interests by venturing into the luxury and leisure realms within the European market. Time spent luxuriating at a resort or playing golf has a remarkable ability to recharge one’s energy. A glass of champagne or a fine wine with a cigar can make memorable moments celebrating with friends even more remarkable—but luxury products and experiences can offer so much more.

“Luxury experiences can provide a unique experience to people, especially when dealing with circumstances like the global [COVID-19] pandemic,” Younan remarks. “It gives us hope that soon we will be able to enjoy the finer things in life again. It gives us something to look forward to so we don’t lose hope during these difficult times. We have had difficulties in the past, and what got us out of them is people focusing on living their lives, solving the problems and moving forward. Providing these luxury services gives people hope.”

The hotels, golf resorts, restaurants, champagne and wine vineyards, and El Septimo Cigars that Younan owns all offer people unique and premium products and experiences. Before the pandemic, people desired—and just as surely after the pandemic ends people will continue to desire­—experiences that give them memories that will last for a lifetime. Younan became interested in the luxury goods and hospitality industries because they are a growing business sector worldwide. Possessing these companies and properties will allow his own company to offer its customers a complete package of luxurious escapes from the demands of their everyday lives and adds value to the services and products Younan provides.

“My business philosophy has always been to be involved in a business that we can add value to and evolve,” Younan explains. “I would never get into an industry that is perfect because where can I add the value? We do things for our passion and not profitability. When you do things for the passion, profitability always arrives later. It always starts with a different way of thinking and a better way of work-ing to achieve superior results. The challenge is always execution, and everyone in the organization needs to adopt the idea that there is always a better way of doing things.”

El Septimo Cigars

The Loire Valley in France, just over one hour from Paris by train or two hours by car, has long been associated with grand historic chateaus. Many were first constructed as fortresses to protect from battles during medieval times, but in the 1500s, the kings and royalty either turned the fortresses into chateaus or commissioned their architects to design new opulent, massive palaces. The royalty imported artisans, architects, artists, landscape designers, and sculptors from Italy during the French Renaissance to enhance the chateaus and to establish France as a major center for arts and culture. In 1515, when Leonardo da Vinci was 64 years old, he was invited by King Francois I to create works for his Chateau d’Amboise, and DaVinci retained his residence at Chateau du Clos Luce nearby until his death three years later. 

Over 3,000 chateaus were built in the Loire Valley between the early 1500s and the 1700s. Many of these chateaus still exist and today are privately owned and have been converted into opulent hotels and bed and breakfasts. The owners strive to keep the original architecture and decor intact but still provide all the modern-day conveniences necessary for a comfortable stay.

Below is a list of seven Loire chateaux we recommend staying in.

Chateau de Beauvois in the Loire Valley of France.

1. Chateau De Beauvois

In 2015, American businessman and entrepreneur Zaya S. Younan realized his childhood dream of owning a chateau in the Loire Valley. He decided one was not enough, so he bought and invested in four chateaus, transforming them into luxury hotels with amenities fit for royalty.

Chateau de Beauvois, a favorite hunting ground of King Louis XIII, was the first of Younan’s properties to be renovated and modernized. Just 20 minutes by car from the Tours railroad station, Chateau de Beauvois is located up a hill in a small village, Saint-Etienne-de-Chigny, surrounded by 37 acres of pristine woodland.

The four-star Chateau de Beauvois has 35 rooms and suites decorated in the opulent Louis XV style with crystal chandeliers, canopy beds with chintz fabric, and velvet chairs and couches. Outside is a terrace with a formal French garden where you can dine or have a drink with birds-eye views of the Loire River.

Since the property was originally a hunting ground, the aptly named gourmet restaurant Louis XIII specializes in venison and other game. Chef Regis Guilpain rounds out the menu with fresh oysters and other seafood delights, plus many vegetarian dishes.

The property also has an outdoor swimming pool, tennis courts, and a bicycle path through a forest.

Chateau de la Barre in the Loire Valley of France.

2. Chateau De La Barre

Chateau de la Barre prides itself on the fact that it is one of the very few Loire chateaux that still retains its original lineage, uninterrupted since 1404. Count and Countess de Vanssay will warmly welcome you for an authentic experience in their 600-year-old chateau.

The main chateau has eight opulently decorated suites, and each one has a unique decor with antique furniture and rugs and imported fabrics. The Marin de Vanssay, the largest suite in the main house, is over 610 square feet and has a king-size, canopy bed, Louis XVIII antiques, hardwood floors, a fireplace, and views facing the gardens. The bathroom has a Jacuzzi tub with a separate shower and Hermes toiletries.

Chateau de la Barre has two cottages, separate from the main house, that can accommodate families or larger groups.

An American-style breakfast is served in the elegant dining room with fresh fruit grown on the grounds.

Countess de Vanssay can arrange special activities in the chateau, such as a visit to their private wine cellar to taste Grand Crus wines, afternoon tea, and a multi-course dinner with matching wines in the dining room. She can also arrange visits to wineries, the major historic chateaus in the area, and garden tours.

You can admire and walk through the flower garden and the 100-acre property. An outdoor swimming pool and cabanas will be installed in 2021.

A room at Le Prieure in Loire Valley of France.

3. Le Prieure

Part of the Younan Luxury Chateau Collection, Le Prieure is a 10th-century castle that was built as a prayer house for Benedictine monks, and in the 18th century, it became the private home of the Count of Castellane.

The highlight of Le Prieure is the amazing view of the Loire River and the surrounding forest and chateaus. The 21 sumptuously decorated rooms, ranging from 150 square feet to 500 square feet, have vintage furniture and rugs, newly installed bathrooms, bathrobes and slippers, and large-screen televisions.

Executive chef Richard Prouteau prepares a contemporary menu using local ingredients when possible, and his signature dishes include multi-color beefsteak tomatoes with vinaigrette and local farm-raised guinea fowl.

If you fancy extraordinary Loire Valley wines, visit the exceptional wine cellar below the hotel, which houses over 25,000 bottles.

Activities on the hotel grounds include miniature golf, tennis, and basketball. There’s also a wooded park to walk through, and the hotel can arrange bicycle rentals.

Chateau de Noirieux in the Loire Valley of France.

4. Chateau De Noirieux

A designated property of the Relais and Chateau Group, Chateau de Noirieux is located 20 minutes by car from the Angers train station. Enjoy four-star luxury in the main chateau and the adjoining 15th-century manor house. The property has 19 rooms in total. Rooms range from an art deco deluxe room to a cozy attic room, perfect if you are traveling solo.

La Table du Chateau, the haute cuisine restaurant, has magnificent views of the rolling hills of the Loire Valley and, in spring and summer, an outdoor terrace. The cuisine reflects the four seasons of local products and one option is the reasonably priced three-course menu for only 50 euros per person.

Chateau de Noirieux offers a menu of well-being treatments including massages, a rose petal reflexology session, and a facial outdoors in the woods.

Mountain bike rides, a heated outdoor pool and Jacuzzi, and walking excursions on 22 acres of land along the Loire River are among the other activities available at the chateau.

Off-season prices are quite reasonable, starting at 120 euros per night for a double room.

Hauts de Loire in the Loire Valley of France.

5. Hauts De Loire

Just four kilometers (2.5 miles) from the Onzain train station, Hauts de Loire is another Relais and Chateau establishment, a 19th-century chateau owned by a Parisian publisher and his son.

The hotel comprises two buildings, the Castle and the Carriage House, and has nine rooms in total, including the family room, which has two separate bedrooms.

The formal restaurant, where chef Remy Giraud presides over the menu, has a two-Michelin-star rating, and The Bistro is the more casual dining option. Cooking classes are given in a designated cooking facility.

The hotel has a Clarins Spa and fitness room plus an outdoor pool.

Chateau d’Artigny in the Loire Valley of France.

6. Chateau D’Artigny

Chateau d’Artigny, just 20 minutes south of the city of Tours, was built for business magnate Francois Coty, owner of the Coty brand of perfume and cosmetics. His unreasonable demands for supreme luxury resulted in a chateau that took 17 years to build (from 1912 to 1929). In 1961, it became a luxury hotel.

The white marble, belle epoque-style chateau has 56 rooms and suites. The beautiful grounds encompass 61 acres containing a formal French garden, woodwork, marble statues, and trompe l’oeil frescos.

The chateau’s L’Origan restaurant, situated under a spectacular rotunda, has handsome wood paneling gilded with gold leaf paint, fluted columns, and oversized windows with views of the Indre valley. Chef Herve Guttin prepares a lunch menu, a vegan menu with freshly grown vegetables, and, for dinner, a multi-course tasting menu.

The Spa d’Artigny has a long menu of treatments including massages, facials, marine body wraps, manicures, and hammam scrubbings.

Chateau de Verrieres in the Loire Valley of France.

7. Chateau De Verrieres

Located less than a mile from the town of Saumur, Chateau De Verrieres is a Napoleon III-style chateau built in 1896 by Madame Baillou de la Brosse.

The romantic rooms and suites are decorated with padded walls with toile de Jouy fabric, antique rugs, and high ceilings.

The salons of the main floor have dark wood paneling, fireplaces, crystal chandeliers, and libraries.

An extensive list of Loire wines and Champagne is available at the bar.

The spa includes a Jacuzzi, sauna, and massage and facial treatments, and outdoors, there’s a heated swimming pool.

Pro Tips

The Loire Valley is quite expansive, and you will need to rent a car to get around unless you arrange transportation from your hotel, which can be costly.

Blois, Amboise, Tours, Saumur, and Angers are the main train stations of the Loire Valley.

Full Gold Logo JPEG

El Septimo was founded in 2005 in France. It then relocated to Geneva, Switzerland. A premium cigar brand with every offering qualifying as luxury. While the company is by no means new it recently made landfall in the United States. With less than 6 month in the U.S. it has already began to make its presence known in a major way.

The Cigar Collections

There were a few notable things I gathered after speaking with the the top of the food chain at El Septimo. The level of detail, craftsmanship, passion, and dedication to the craft. First, they only use whole leaves in their cigars. While that does not seem like a huge statement let it sink in. Several brands use the parts and pieces of the leaf that fits their need which is not an issue. El Septimo took the approach of using the entire leaf throughout the cigar which also means a good portion of their lines are large ring gauge. In my opinion it does add different flavor since each part of the leaf will not match. Second, during their fermentation process they leave their leaves in white rum and vegetable oil. The rum adds tons of flavor depending on time it is fermented. The oil adds a silky smooth and shiny look to the wrapper of the cigar. The oils also help pull flavor from the tobacco when you are enjoying it.

ES Cigars

El Septimo has several lines of cigars, but make no mistake. They see each blend and its own brand. As of right now they have roughly 40 different brands under the El Septino flag. They do have their selections under specific selections. The Diamond Collection, Luxus Collection, Travel Time Collection, Alexandra Collection, and Gilgamesh Collection can be found on their website at http://www.el-septimo.ch 

Below you can see a slideshow gallery of just a few of these premium cigars.

AA Zaya 3 1 1115x664

Zaya Younan came to the United States from Iran alone and essentially penniless. Now his family's buildings soar over American cities and their castles are the toast of France.

Hearing the life story of Zaya S. Younan can be a tonic in troubled times. From coming to America alone as a near penniless child to trying to take his company, Younan Properties, into an IPO just as the 2008 crash hit, he’s had to draw on resilience and determination that stand in contrast to the business towers, converted-castle hotels, and fine wines that he now provides to his clientele. After graduating at age 19 from the University of Illinois and working several low-level jobs, he spent more than a decade as a young executive with companies across the business spectrum, including General Motors, Johnson Controls, and TRW. 

In 2002, at age 39, he founded Southern Californiabased commercial real estate company Younan Properties, where he remains chairman and CEO. The company has a portfolio of high-rise office buildings in the United States worth $2.8B. Having moved recently into Europe and the business of luxury hotels, golf courses, cigars, and wines, with plans for broader expansion, Younan Properties became part of the larger Younan Company, the eponymous family business where his employees include four of his five children. (The fifth is still in high school.) The 57-year-old Younan sat down to talk with CSQ about hislife’s journey. 

YOU CAME TO THE UNITED STATES FROM IRAN BY YOURSELF AS A 13-YEAR-OLD BOY. WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO DO THAT AND WHAT WAS IT LIKE? 

We were Assyrian Christians, a small minority in Iran. I lived in a tremendous amount of poverty. My father was a truck driver. At an early age, I learned that it was very frustrating for me to live in that country. I met some tourists that came to our house and needed to use the bathroom and drink some water. They turned out to be Americans. So, I developed a huge interest in going to America. I saved up my money, got my own airline ticket, and got my own visa, without telling my parents. headed to America alone. The trip took 48 hours! I had so many connections with the ticket I could afford. Tehran to Amsterdam to Frankfurt to New York JFK to LaGuardia to Chicago. When you’re a kid you don’t really think in terms of how long it will take; you think about the endpoint. I had an uncle who lived in Chicago, so I lived there first. Obviously, you’re scared, you’re a little kid. I was very scared, but I was very happy to change my life and to come to the place that I had heard so much about. I was very excited to get here and to start my life here. And my parents joined me a year later. 

Younan always wanted to own castles in Europe. Pictured here, Alexandra Palace.

HOW DID DOING SOMETHING THAT BIG, BOLD, AND RISKY SHAPE THE REST OF YOUR LIFE AND CAREER?

That’s the personality that usually succeeds in lifethey push envelopes and take risks. I wanted something different, something better, but then it becomes a part of your personality. You still take risks.That passion gives you the energy. It’s always easier to find a closed door than an open door. Every time you are planning to do something, you are going to find a closed door. The way I think about it, I look until I find a door that is open. You need that perseverance in trying to always get to the final goal. I think that’s very very good for anybody to have. I had it from a very early age. 

ONCE YOU WERE IN THE U.S., HOW DID YOUR EDUCATION AND YOUR EARLY YEARS OF WORK SHAPE YOU INTO THE CEO YOU ARE TODAY?

I looked at education as a tool for me to get where I wanted to get. I couldn’t wait to finish high school. I couldn’t wait to finish college with a bachelor’s degree in engineering. I graduated from the University of Illinois when I was 19. My graduation was on a Saturday, and I was working on Monday. I did engineering for a short period of time. I went to production, to purchasing. I went to advertising. I was able to be well rounded. I was a senior executive for General Motors. I worked for many different companies with different products. By the time I was 35 years old, I had held a couple of CEO jobs with major companies. I did not waste my youth; I optimized it. I knew it was important for me to have a lot of experience. I was able to do what it takes. I promised myself I would be the first one in in the entire company, and I would be the last one to leave. People would ask, Why are you working when you’re not getting paid? But I wasn’t just working for the company, I was working to mold myself. 

AND AFTER ALL OF THAT, HOW DID YOU END UP WITH YOUR OWN COMPANY IN REAL ESTATE AND PROPERTY MANAGEMENT? 

Around 2001, I came back from working for a cyber company in France. We were tired of living abroad. I had built a fortune. I had enough money to be able to invest it in properties. I had never had a vacation. I wanted to find a property, go there, and read all the books I had never read. And looking to buy properties got me interested in the property business. I never really anticipated that Younan Properties would be so successful. Our first building was small, like 20,000 square feet. And five years later we had one at 1.8 million square feet. As I bought and I sold, I constantly upgraded myself. Everything I do next would be much bigger and much grander. 

The pool at Chateau de Beauvois.

YOUR COMPANY WAS ABOUT TO GO PUBLIC IN ARGUABLY THE WORST POSSIBLE BUSINESS TO BE IN, REAL ESTATE, WHEN THE 2008 CRASH HIT. WHAT DID YOU TAKE AWAY FROM THAT EXPERIENCE?

The recession was very difficult for us. We did not know we’d have a headwind that was so bad for so long. We were approached by some of the big companies telling us, “You guys have a great story.You guys have a great portfolio product.” So, we started a prospectus, and we got our IPO approved by U.S. government auditors. Then the market started to collapse. We thought, “We’ll wait for a couple of weeks, after that we’ll be fine.” So, we waited. And when you are going public, nothing should change about your company, so we couldn’t do much. For the longest time we thought it was a bad thing, but now looking back it was frankly the best thing that happened to us. We were able to survive during the recession without evaporating. And now we are more of a private equity firm, so we have transitioned ourselves. You’re able to move faster than all the restrictions and obligations that come with being a publicly held company. It worked out better for us. 

WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE TO MOVE THE COMPANY INTO EUROPE IN RECENT YEARS?YOU’VE BOUGHT NINE CASTLES THAT YOU’VE TURNED INTO HOTELS. WHAT MOTIVATED THAT?

Well, growing up in such a tremendous amount of poverty, I was fascinated with the idea of castles. I always wanted to own castles in Europe.

Today I’m able to say I own more castles than any king in Europe.

[The castles, all acquired quietly in France and Portugal since 2016 and quickly transformed by the Younan Company into four– and five-star luxury hotels, include Alexandra Palace in Mazières-en-Gâtine; Château de Beauvois and Château Le Prieuré in the Loire Valley; Château de La Perrière, a wedding and events venue in Avrillé; Domaine de Vaugouard in Fontenay-sur-Loing; Hotel Saint-Martin in Saint-Maixent-l’Ecole; and Malibu Foz in Figueira da Foz, Portugal.]

The opulent interiors at Chateau de Beauvois.

We wanted to expand on our luxury hotel business there. We got into spirit making, winesand producing some of the best wines in the world in that region.[Younan has two wineries in the Bordeaux region, Chateau La Croix Younan and Chateau Zaya, which produce merlot, cabernet sauvignonand cabernet franc; he also owns four golf courses in France.]We wanted at our hotels something very exclusive to that hotel, so guests can experience that. We bought a tobacco company, El Septimo Geneva, which produces some of the best cigars in the world. Next we’re buying a Champagne house, so we can start making our own Champagne, in the actual Champagne region of France, for the market and for ourselves. 

WHAT IS IT LIKE WORKING WITH YOUR CHILDREN? 

I was very fortunate that my kids have joined me in business. I always told them that they should pursue their dreams. That’s why I changed the company from a real estate company to a private equity firm and so forth so they can do different things. They’re learning a lot. I love and I enjoy working with them every day. As children they try to impress their father, and as a father I’m working very hard to impress my children. It creates incredible self-generating energy.