Fathers and Sons, Part 2
The second part of our look at the important generational partnerships that define a large part of the cigar industry
From the Print Edition:
William Shatner, Sept/Oct 2006
Many of the best cigars in the world—and much of the tobacco that goes into them—are the product of father-and-son teams. In our second installment of this story (see the August 2006 issue for the first article), we continue our look at the personalities behind some of the world's greatest cigar brands and the tobacco used in their creation.
Carlos Fuente Sr. + Carlos Fuente Jr.
The June heat is unrelenting, even under the thatched gazebo near the entrance to Chateau de la Fuente. Peacocks caw in the shadow of the royal palm trees that seem to be everywhere on this gorgeous tobacco farm where every rock lining the roads is painted bright white, where each detail is carefully attended to in this oasis where some of the world's most sought-after tobacco is grown.
No father-son team is as famous as that of the farm's owners, Carlos Fuente Sr. and Carlos Fuente Jr. The two men run a business that makes some 35 million cigars by hand each year, among them the Fuente Fuente OpusX Double Corona, Cigar Aficionado's 2006 Cigar of the Year.
They sit down at a small, simple table that stands on the tiled floor of the gazebo. On its top are a thermos of rich, black coffee, a few dozen cigars and a wooden ashtray. As Carlos Jr., known as Carlito, reaches for a dark OpusX, it's easy to see his resemblance to his father. Each man has a thin mustache, and neither looks his age. The elder Fuente, 71, has a head of thick hair for which men 20 years his junior would kill, even though it's mostly white. The son, 52, is showing flecks of gray in his black hair, but his eyes sparkle with the enthusiasm of youth. The bond between the two is evident.
It's a cigar-making bond that goes back to a previous generation. Arturo Fuente, Carlos Sr.'s father, created A. Fuente & Co. in 1912 with a group of partners in the Ybor City section of Tampa, Florida. The business burned down in 1924, and it wasn't until 1946 that Arturo reopened it behind the family's house. It was a small, bootstrap operation, far from the juggernaut that is Fuente today.
"Cigarmakers would leave their day jobs in other cigar factories—there were hundreds around Tampa—and then they would go visit my grandfather and make cigars with him at night," says Carlos Fuente Jr. "They didn't charge him," adds Fuente Sr. "They would do it out of friendship. That's the way my father started."
Carlos Sr. had little money growing up, and soon developed a strict work ethic to make ends meet. "I was maybe eight years old, and I always liked to earn my own money. I shined shoes in the street, I worked in grocery stores, a pharmacy, and when I became a teenager I used to get off school at 3:30 and I used to start working at four at the pharmacy, until 11 o'clock at night. I would get up at two, three o'clock in the morning: I had a newspaper route, and then at eight o'clock in the morning I used to go to school. I'm used to working seven days a week my whole life."
When he was 16, Carlos Sr. took a job as a baker because his father couldn't afford to employ him at the factory, although he had been making cigars off the payroll for his dad since he was 10. Baking paid well for the time—with overtime, $160 a week—but after marrying at age 18 and having a child a year later, he yearned to work full-time in the family business. In 1957, he realized that goal, quitting the bakery job even though his father still couldn't afford to pay him a salary. Fuente Sr. made do by getting his wife a job at another cigar factory and by selling cigars on the weekends.
After Carlos Sr. took over the business in 1958 (Arturo stayed on in a limited capacity until 1965), the Fuente factory was extended to include practically every room in Arturo Fuente's Ybor City home. "We took the whole house over," says Fuente Sr., who by now was able to draw a weekly paycheck of $40. "I just left my father and my mother one back room and an area to cook. That was all they had left. They had a living room, but when we had to blend the tobacco, we had to get all the furniture out of the living room and out on the street. The kitchen we used to cellophane cigars."
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Robert Martin — Flushing, New York, Queens, — September 30, 2011 6:46pm ET
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