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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
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
William Shatner, Sept/Oct 2006

(continued from page 5)

Hendrik + Henry Kelner

It's early in the afternoon on a sunny Monday in Santiago, Dominican Republic. Lunchtime is over, and business is set to move into the spacious corner office of the boss, Hendrik Kelner. Cigars are lit, and he and his son sit down in front of an ashtray that can hold a dozen cigars. On the smoking agenda for the afternoon is a pair of Zino Platinum cigars, the Barrel and the Grand Master, plus a new size that may end up at the upcoming Retail Tobacco Dealers of America trade show, five weeks away.

Hendrik, 60, is a tobacco man by blood, and his 33-year-old son is no different. How long has he worked with his dad? "All my life," says Kelner Jr., who goes by the nickname Henry. "In the '80s, I worked during the summer, in the '90s, I worked part-time, and since 1993, I work full-time." Today, the father oversees the three cigar factories that comprise the entire operation that makes Davidoff, Avo and a host of other cigars, while the son is manager of Cigars Davidoff, the factory where Davidoffs are rolled.

The Kelners come from a long line of tobacco men. "It's a tradition of the family," says the elder Kelner. "My father [Klass] worked in tobacco. He started very young in Amsterdam, and came to the Dominican Republic in 1933. My father never had a cigar factory—the Kelners traditionally worked in raw materials, in Brazil, Paraguay, Indonesia and the Dominican Republic."

Hendrik Sr., known to the cigar world as Henke, has one of the most sophisticated palates in the industry. A veritable tobacco scientist, he can speak for entire afternoons about tobacco and rhapsodize at great length about the characteristics of whatever he is smoking.

"We always have lunch in the factory," says Henke. "After lunch, we try to have quiet, and it's a pleasure because we take our cigars and we say, 'What do you think about the taste? The aftertaste?' We have coffee and Cognac, and we compare. And when we agree, we are happy." Cigar smoking is work for Henke, who takes detailed notes on the cigars and how they stimulate the various flavor receptors on the tongue—salty, sweet, bitter and sour. "We have a chart," he says, describing the lengthy process he, his son and close associate Eladio Diaz go through when testing cigars. "The blend for us is not a formula.

"Normally when I smoke, it's my job," he says in his heavily accented English. "Sometimes, I smoke for pleasure. When I really like a cigar, after I smoke half, I say, 'This half of the cigar is for pleasure. No writing, no talking, just 'conjo, que buelo esta cigar,'" he says.

His son, a smaller, quieter version of Kelner, is humbled to follow in his father's footsteps. "I'm not as gifted as my father in terms of palate," he says. "I still have a long way to go." Kelner praises his son's progress in the trade. "He learns fast, but in the cigar business you learn every day."

Stanford, Eric + Bobby Newman

Sometimes being the son of the boss means an easier path to the top of the company, but Stanford Newman had a challenge working for his father. Stanford, 90, the chairman of J.C. Newman Cigar Co., spent most of his career working in the large shadow of his domineering father, Julius Newman, who second-guessed nearly every move his son made until his death.

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Comments   1 comment(s)

Robert Martin — Flushing, New York, Queens,  —  September 30, 2011 6:46pm ET

my brother anthony got me smoking Arturo's when we were in Atlantic City.... love them...

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