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Recollections

These friends of Cigar Aficionado were there at the beginning in 1992, and they are still working with cigars today.
From the Print Edition:
Cigar Aficionado's 20th Anniversary, September/October 2012

(continued from page 1)

Carlos Fuente Sr. and Carlos Fuente Jr.

Carlos Fuente Sr. and Carlos Fuente Jr. are the father-son team behind Arturo Fuente and Fuente Fuente OpusX cigars. They are arguably the most famous cigarmakers in the world, the principals behind a cigar company that is celebrating its 100th year in 2012, and one that makes more than 30 million cigars a year, all of them by hand. The first 80 years were extremely lean, with a temporary closing and several fires. The company thrived over the past 20 years, thanks to the work of the two men. “I’ve been working since I was eight years old,” says the 77-year-old Fuente Sr., who willed himself to do every job imaginable in a factory and once went three weeks straight without leaving his office. His determined son strived to do things that most thought impossible, such as growing great wrapper tobacco in the Dominican Republic. Fuente Jr. believes the 1990s boom only improved the cigar world. “The boom was the best thing that ever happened to the industry,” says Fuente Jr. “There were only five or six people making cigars before the boom.” —D.S.

Julio Eiroa

For Julio Eiroa, the cigar boom meant changes in sales and market niche and eventually the character of the cigars he made. His company, Caribe Imported Cigars, formed in Miami in 1989, began as a big-volume-low-profit business, especially in south Florida. Eiroa had a cheap cigar known as Don Felo, which he sold in Miami cafeterias for 33 cents apiece. Before the 1990s, Eiroa was happy making two to three million cigars a year, then came the cigar boom. Production soared to 18 million cigars by 1997, the company’s best year ever, with $17 million in revenues, compared with $120,000 in 1989. Eiroa worked for more than a decade alongside his son Christian, who wanted to make strong cigars while Julio wanted them smooth. “I don’t like full-bodied cigars. They’re too strong for me. I always go for the cigar that you can smoke five or 10 cigars a day,” he says. Nevertheless, they each developed their own profiles of their best-known brand, Camacho. While the Eiroas sold their brands and cigar factory to the Davidoff group in 2008, Julio still grows tobacco in Honduras in his beloved Jamastran Valley, which borders Nicaragua. —D.S.

Mike Giannini

Mike Giannini felt like a fish out of water when he took a job as a cigar clerk 30 years ago in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. He was only 21, and his love of cigars seemed alien to his friends. “I was the only young guy smoking cigars. My friends said, ‘Who are you—George Burns?’ ” The early start has led Giannini up the ladder of the cigar industry rung by rung, moving him from shop clerk to store owner, then salesman and national sales manager of La Gloria Cubana cigars. Early this year Giannini moved into his current role as head of new product development for General Cigar Co., trying to stretch the bounds of cigar tradition with such innovation as the La Gloria Cubana Artesanos de Obelisco, a cigar modeled after a Santiago, Dominican Republic, monument. Even if 20 years ago friends questioned his foray into the cigar business, today he entertains the crowds at the Big Smoke, teaching the delicate art of making cigars to cigar aficionados. —D.S.

Antonio Hevea

In 1994, Antonio Hevea was sent to Paris to open the Casa del Habano on the Boulevard St. Germain. In the shop on opening day, he was approached by Cigar Aficionado’s editor and publisher, Marvin R. Shanken. He remembers chatting with him, and then being asked, “Are you coming to the Dinner of the Century tomorrow night.” Hevea responded, “Only if you buy me a ticket.” With that, he was invited, and he spent the next 24 hours finding a tuxedo before attending one of the greatest cigar dinners of all time. For the 76-year-old Hevea, the dinner was a high point in a lifetime in cigars. He had began by working in the Por Larrañaga factory in 1958 as a coffee boy before becoming an accountant at various cigar factories and at Cubatabaco, the country’s tobacco monopoly. He opened the first cigar shop attached to a cigar factory (at Partagás in downtown  Havana) in 1991. And, in 1999 he opened the Casa del Habano in the Hotel Conde de Villanueva in Old Havana, where he still holds court from time to time. —G.D.M.

Hendrik Kelner

Hendrik “Henke” Kelner looks back on the business in two primary phases—before Cigar Aficionado and afterward. When he was the president of Tabadom in 1992, the company was exporting 7 million premium cigars a year, most of which were under the Davidoff brand name. ProCigar (the Dominican Republic’s consortium of premium cigar manufacturers) had just been formed, but Kelner recalls: “Cigar exports to the U.S. were stagnant. For many years it was considered to be a business with no future. It was not an attractive business, had little innovation and the consumers were poorly informed. Cigar Aficionado created a culture around the pleasure and art of smoking. This lead to what was called the cigar boom in the United States. It later spread to the rest of the world.” Kelner, now master blender for Davidoff of Geneva, has developed new kinds of tobacco and blends as a result of the boom that include such varieties as Dominican Corojo, and cross-seed Ecuadoran hybrids. —Gregory Mottola


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