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An Interview with Benjamin Menendez

Speaking with Benjamin Menendez, senior vice president of General Cigar Co., the maker of Macanudo, Partagas, La Gloria Cubana and many more cigars.

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Q: Really? If it somehow changed tomorrow, became a free nation…
A: What am I going to see there? I have been fortunate in that I have been twice around the globe. I don’t care to go to another city. I go to a city if I have friends that I can enjoy. To see buildings? I have been to the greatest cities in the world. They don’t tell me anything. Just people.
Q: Different question—what if the embargo is over and you have the opportunity to use Cuban tobacco in your cigar blends?
A: Now I’m going to talk as a Cuban. And as a Cuban, I would never allow one leaf of tobacco to be shipped.
Q: Anywhere?
A: Anywhere. You want Cuban tobacco? Come to Cuba and set up the operation,
because Cuba is going to need the jobs.
Q: In the old days they shipped it to the United States. You don’t think that will happen again?
A: I don’t think so. Tampa doesn’t exist anymore as a tobacco center. I remember the first time I went to Tampa, December of 1952, and there were a ton of cigar factories. They were making about 450 million Cuban cigars in Tampa. When Tampa was created originally, there was no immigration law. There was not even a passport. You just walked.
Q: So by giving jobs to people in Tampa, the jobs were going to Cubans making the cigars?
A: Yes. I’m talking as a Cuban. Now, as a member of General Cigar, yes, I would like Cuban tobacco blended with this tobacco. But I’m talking with two sides of my mouth. I can never forget I’m Cuban.
Q: What do you think the cigar world looks like after the embargo is lifted?
A: Fifteen years ago you couldn’t sell a Dominican or a Nicaraguan or a Honduran cigar in Europe. Today I won’t say it’s an open door, but there’s a window of opportunity. The cigars from these countries are getting better and better.  Cuba has a powerful name, very powerful. The day the embargo is lifted, and Cuban cigars come into the United States, the first week there is going to be a line around the block to buy Cuban cigars. By the second or the third week, that line is going to be very, very short. Because they will see that they have been smoking cigars from all these different countries that they have been enjoying, and this is a different palate. I’m a Scotch drinker. You might like rum. If you’re a rum drinker and I give you Scotch, 18-year-old Scotch, you’ll say “I don’t like it. I like rum.” But because you have heard so much about how good Cuban cigars are, you’re going to try that cigar. And a lot of them are going to be disappointed.
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