Cigar Aficionado's Hall of Fame Class of 2012
From the Print Edition:
Cigar Aficionado's 20th Anniversary, September/October 2012
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More of a behind-the-scenes type, Kelner is known for his ceaseless study of tobacco subjects like soil content, climates, fermentation, blending and cigar rolling. This dedication has led him to amass loads of information, from documents to magazines and slides, on the cigar-manufacturing process.
“I have tobacco in my blood,” he has said. “Tobacco was my first job and I’m never going to work another.”
President, Ashton Distributors Inc., Holt’s Cigar Co.,
Robert Levin’s first whiff of the cigar business came at the tender age of 11 when he was tasked to sweep the floors of Holt’s Cigar Store, his father’s tobacco shop in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was not until 1972, though, that Levin entered the cigar business full time.
Back then, Holt’s was a profitable, but small, cigar merchant. Levin saw potential for growth. He seized an opportunity to purchase Harry A. Tint & Sons, another Philadelphia cigar store, in 1980, and soon created the Ashton cigar brand.
A blend of four Dominican tobaccos wrapped in Connecticut Shade, Ashtons became a smash hit in the industry after the Fuente family took over production of the cigar in the late 1980s. The brand now includes a number of line extensions, including the Aged Maduro, the Cabinet and the highly acclaimed Virgin Sun Grown collections.
Levin, 66, has a knack for fostering relationships and anticipating the market, which has led him to create a number of cigar successes, including La Aroma de Cuba in 2003 and San Cristobal in 2007.
Senior Vice President, General Cigar Co.,
Benjamin Menendez has created cigars in nearly every cigar-producing country, from Cuba to the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Brazil and the Canary Islands, to Nicaragua and Honduras. His storied cigar career began in El Vedado, an upper-class neighborhood of Havana. Here he was born in 1936 to Alonso Menendez, the creator of the Montecristo brand and the cofounder of what was once the largest cigar company in Havana, Menendez, Garcia y Cia.
Benji, as he is known to friends, started working alongside his father at the H. Upmann cigar factory, the largest in Havana, at a young age. For two decades he produced Montecristos and absorbed the entire cigarmaking process, from the field to processing to rolling.
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