After graduating, Melillo traveled abroad and worked for the Vatican City Grand Jubilee in the summer of 2000 helping pilgrims at tourist sites throughout Rome, Italy. From there he backpacked around Europe to Germany, the Netherlands, France, Slovakia, Spain, and Italy.
In May 2001, Melillo worked as a tour guide for Italian Passage, a Renaissance art history company, in which he guided American students through Sienna, Florence, and Rome. Melillo then traveled throughout Italy, Spain, France, India, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, China, Japan, and returned to the U.S. in January 2003.
“In 2003 I was able to put two of my great passions—handmade cigars and international business—into real-life experience,” Melillo said.
In March 2003, Melillo moved to Esteli, Nicaragua, to work for Drew Estate cigar company. When Melillo joined Drew Estate, the company was a tenth of its current size. Melillo was hired as owner Jonathan Drew’s right-hand man and swiftly took the lead of running Drew Estate’s Nicaraguan operations with a focus on blending, quality control, production and shipment planning, raw-material purchasing (dark air-cured tobacco), fermentation, and overall executive management. Melillo was quickly promoted to Director of Tobaccos and Production and then Executive Vice President of International Operations. Melillo has played a key role on the Drew Estate team for eleven years, becoming a partner in the company and a cigar blender by his own right.
Melillo mastered the blending of some of the company’s top-selling brands, including Liga Privada #9, Liga Privada T52, Unico Series, Dirty Rat, UF-13, L40, Nica Rustica, Kahlua, Java, Isla del Sol, Legends, and Tabak Especial. He also worked alongside Willy Herrera on Herrera Esteli and led the factory team on the creation of the Under Crown blend.
Melillo leaves Drew Estate as the largest cigar factory in Nicaragua, and the top five handmade cigar factories in the world—producing 100,000 handmade cigars a day and employing 1,400 workers.
Melillo currently sits on the Quinnipiac University International Business advisory council. He also owns a hotel in Nicaragua called the Hotel Puro Esteli.