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A painting for pops: Tarpon Springs cigar shop owner commissions artist to paint mural in honor of late father

Serafin Mural on building

By JEFF ROSENFIELD, Suncoast News Nov 25, 2020 Updated Dec 11, 2020

Painting for Pops
Arnold Serafin, owner of Serafin de Cuba Cigars on the Sponge Docks, recently commissioned local artist Marc DiClemente to paint a mural depicting images from Tarpon Springs and Cuba on the side of his shop, located at 45 Dodecanese Blvd, in honor of his late father, Ramon Serafin Jr.

TARPON SPRINGS — As city officials continue to engage in discussions about pending projects designed to improve the visitor experience at the Sponge Docks, including installing a sound system, a live webcam and a new entryway sign, one area merchant decided to beautify his business on his own.

Arnold Serafin, owner of the Serafin de Cuba Cigars shop, recently commissioned a local artist to paint a colorful mural on the side of his building, located at 45 Dodecanese Blvd. near the entrance to the historic tourist district.

The piece, which depicts images from Key West, Cuba and Tarpon Springs, is a tribute to Serafin’s late father, Ramon Serafin Jr., a Cuban native who moved here from New Jersey and always enjoyed talking about history with colleagues, coworkers and customers.

Arnold Serafin pointing to image of his father Ramon Serafin Jr
Serafin de Cuba Cigars owner, Arnold Serafin, points to a portrait depicting from, left his grandfather, Ramon Serafin Sr., his father, Ramon Serafin Jr., and his great-grandfather, Antonio Serafin that hangs in his shop at 45 Dodecanese Blvd. on the Sponge Docks

“Part of my inspiration for this project was the death of my father,” Serafin said Nov. 17, a few days after the mural was (mostly) finished. “My dad passed away last year, and he loved chatting about history, especially with his Greek friends. The history of Cuba, and the history of Tarpon Springs. So, my inspiration for the mural was to showcase the history of Tarpon and the connection to Cuba in honor of my father.”

Serafin, who along with his dad opened their original shop a couple of doors down in 2005, describes the mural as “Key West, Tarponized,” and it features several instantly recognizable images including the Anclote Key Lighthouse, a sponge diver, Havana’s famed Morro Castle and the iconic mile-marker buoy denoting the distance from Key West to Cuba with a Tarpon twist. It also shows a plane from the Bay of Pigs invasion flying overhead as well as a fisherman reeling in his catch, presumably a tarpon.

“The whole thing is a crazy concoction of mine,” Serafin said, adding, “I figured the mural would bring Tarpon Springs to Cuba.”

When it came time to bring his “concoction” to life, Serafin turned to Mark DiClemente, a longtime local artist who formed a strong bond with his father soon after they moved to the area from New Jersey.

“Mark is a talented painter,” he said of the man known as the ‘Markelangelo’ of the Docks. “He does a lot of murals in the area and he and my dad had a great relationship, so I immediately thought he was the right person for the project.”

DiClemente, a graduate of the Art Institute of Pittsburgh who painted the bright blue mural on the side of the Sponge Factory building, among roughly 50 other works in the area, said the collaboration brought his 30-year career of decorating the docks full circle.

“I ran into Arnold’s father about 13 years ago when he first moved here and he asked me to do a piece for the front of his shop because he knew I did the mural on the other side of the building,” DiClemente said, noting he is the fisherman in the painting. “When he told me about this project I met with Arnold and he gave me an idea of what he wanted. It started with the buoy and it just grew from there.”

Serafin said the mural, which isn’t quite complete, has already been receiving a lot of attention.

“People are pulling up in the parking lot, taking pictures and asking about it,” he said. “In fact, I’ve heard from several people who think we need to have a real buoy like that here at the docks!”

Don Ramon Serafin Jr. at the counter
A picture of the late Serafin de Cuba Cigars owner, Ramon Serafin Jr.Photo courtesy of ARNOLD SERAFIN

He said he hopes that what started as a small tribute to his dad will leave a lasting impression on the area for many years to come.

“People always say your father was a cigar maker, why did he choose to open a shop in Tarpon Springs and not Tampa, which was once known as the cigar capital of the world?” Serafin said. “I tell them there was something about Tarpon that drew us to this place, like it was meant to be. Tarpon is a special place that is dear to my heart, and that’s why I wanted to do this mural, which showcases our history here.”

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In The Name of the Father

Arnold Serafin showing the Don Ramon 1942 Series cigar made in honor of his late father

TARPON SPRINGS — When Arnold Serafin’s father, Ramon, died in December 2019, the longtime owner of the Serafin de Cuba cigar shop knew he wanted to do something to honor his memory.

“After his passing, I always said I have to do something to honor him,” Serafin said recently from his shop at 45 Dodecanese Blvd. near the entrance to the historic Sponge Docks. “My father helped me build my business here and worked alongside of me here since 2007 and he was an integral part of my business and our family history, which has been making cigars since the late 1800s in Cuba.”

Serafin’s narrow, colorful shop is filled with cigar-making materials, memorabilia, photographs and paintings, many featuring his father.

He decided the best way to honor Ramon was staring him right in the face — he would create a cigar bearing his name, the Serie Don Ramon 1942.

“This cigar was a year in the making,” Serafin said of the 33-ring double corona, which he spent countless hours perfecting, from the design of the box and label to the blend of Nicaraguan and Dominican tobacco that fills the Connecticut wrapper. “It’s a premium smoke, mild and smooth, and I’m just blown away by the finished product because everything in the box has meaning, and I’m proud to say every part of the box was made by Cubans.”

The creation of the new cigar carried extra meaning for Serafin, as his father was a history buff who had a passion for reviving long-lost Tampa labels.

“We brought the Tarpon Sponger brand back in 2010 after more than 90 years,” he said of one of his shop’s most popular sellers. “It is an old Tampa brand that honors the Greek sponge divers, and it was the pride and joy of my dad. He was such a history nut and resurrecting old Tampa cigar brands is something he really wanted to do. Now he has a brand bearing his name.”

Serafin said the response so far to the cigar has, well, blown him away.

“I’m at about 82 boxes sold, plus hundreds of loose ones,” he said in mid-June, noting the label is set to be featured in Cigar Aficionado magazine. “It’s been a huge hit. The outpouring of love and support has been great. I’m just blown away.”

One day in mid-April, longtime Serafin family friends Arelys and Gonzalo Constenla drove from their home in New Port Richey to pick up a box, and the couple spoke about Arnold’s tribute to his father.

“I thought it was a great idea,” Arelys Constenla said. “It’s exciting because he was such an amazing man, always telling stories about old Cuba. When I heard about the cigar, I told my husband I don’t care if you never smoke them, but this is such a great tribute and it speaks volumes of Arnold and the store.”

According to Gonzalo Constenla, who along with Ramon coached Arnold in Little League in New Jersey, the elder Serafin “was a great man and very lovable, and this is a special thing Arnold did to honor him.”

Serafin also owns a shop in Spring Hill. He said now that the work on his father’s tribute cigar has wrapped, he’s turning his attention to resurrecting the old Tampa labels Ramon loved so much.

“We just got the copyright for Flor de Tampa,” he said, adding he plans to continue selling his father’s cigar as long as there’s a demand. “I wish he could’ve seen this, to be truthful. But I think he’s watching — I really believe he’s watching — and I hope he’s proud.”