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An Interview with Oscar Boruchin

Owner of Licenciados and 8-9-8 Collection cigars.

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Boruchin: Don't forget that most of the young smokers have not been exposed to many Cuban cigars. They buy a box of Cohibas and they smoke a product that is not that great, but they really don't identify it that well. Like maybe you or I could identify it as a fake.

CA: Then they say a Cuban cigar is not so good.

Boruchin: But they like to go around with the band on. What they are trying to do is impress people with the fact they are smoking a Cohiba. Taste means very little. It's just showing off to their friends on Saturday night that they are smoking a Cohiba. They choose by the band.

CA: I get asked all the time by people to tell them whether the cigars are real or not. One guy swore his came from Cuba, and I asked him if they'd been bought in a store and he said, no, right out front. I knew immediately they were fakes. It seems the problem is out of control.

Boruchin: Every other Cuban cigar sold in Miami today is counterfeit. Especially the Cohiba and Montecristo labels. Those are the ones that you see the most. I haven't seen a counterfeit Bolivar, or some of the other brands that are not that popular. I have heard stories of customers of mine that have been hustled by clerks in stores in Cuba, like, "Why do you want to pay $250 [per box] for this cigar? I can get it to you for $70, $80 tonight, if you meet me at such and such a place." Because it's a store clerk offering this deal, people think they must be stolen from the store and are real. But that's not the case. The Cubans are very ingenious. They always were and that's the reason that they're so successful in exile. How they manage to counterfeit the boxes and the bands--this is something unbelievable.

CA: You have three brands today. Can you tell us the origin of the brands?

Boruchin: The 8-9-8 Collection came about as a result of a [1991] deal with General Cigar. We were going to do something in the Dominican Republic. They wanted to make a good high-grade cigar for us in Jamaica. Today, because of the raw material problems, we will get about 300,000 8-9-8 cigars.

CA: You own that brand?

Boruchin: I own that brand, and it is selling tremendously. We have taken orders [at the August '96 Retail Tobacco Dealers Convention] in Cincinnati for delivery in '97. Even though we are going to deliver 300,000 cigars, you know that is not enough. And, it is a very expensive cigar.

CA: What's the price range of 8-9-8?

Boruchin: Between $6 and $9. We also own the brand, Licenciados, which I started to make with MATASA and Manuel Quesada in 1987. I wanted a mild cigar because the market favored mild cigars at the time. I was smoking Diplomaticos that I used to get in the Bahamas. And I loved the look of the box and it occurred to me that it wasn't registered. I tried to register the brand, but I ran into problems with the name. But I had no problems with the design. In order to expedite the introduction, we came out with the name Licenciados, which means attorney in [Spanish]. We had some second thoughts because the name was so hard to pronounce in the American market. But then we got a 93 from Cigar Aficionado [in 1994], and the brand became extremely popular; the pronunciation didn't matter.

CA: They could pronounce Toro. [Laughter] [Toro is the name of the Licenciados corona gorda that received the 93.]

Boruchin: They could pronounce Toro with the 93. The problem was essentially a very recent problem. We were great in the late '80s, over 200,000 cigars a year. We had 40 or 50 good friends that we had in the cigar business that were helping me with the brand and the brand was a viable brand.

CA: So you created the name?

Boruchin: I created the name. And Mr. Quesada and myself created the brand. We were trying to copy a blend similar to Macanudo. I don't mind telling you. Macanudo was extremely popular and we felt that if we came out with a product mild like this, we would have an edge.

CA: With Licenciados, because it was not a brand of Cuban origin, you can sell that brand all over the world.

Boruchin: The brand, yes. I don't think I can use the design outside the United States, because Cuba makes Diplomaticos with the design.

CA: What is the sales volume for Licenciados?

Boruchin: In 1996, we will have put out in the market a little over one million cigars. We could sell more if we could get them.

CA: What about Bauza?

Boruchin: Bauza is the love of my life. That was the first cigar I smoked. It's a very old Cuban brand and it's probably one of the most popular Cuban brands that wasn't made for export. It was smoked by Cubans on the island. The brand Bauza is owned by the Arturo Fuente family. I acquired the distribution rights to the brand when I purchased a small jobber that represented the Fuentes in the Miami area.

CA: You acquired the rights to sell the brand?

Boruchin: I have the rights to sell the brand in the United States. It's a tremendous brand. I know that Carlos Fuente Sr. and Carlos Jr. are in love with the brand. The plans for the brand in the future are tremendous.

CA: The Fuentes produce the brand?

Boruchin: Yes, they make the brand. When I acquired the rights for the brand, we were selling maybe 40,000 or 50,000 cigars in the United States, but they were mainly concentrated in the Cuban area in Miami. But they weren't making any money because the Cubans in Miami only buy very inexpensive cigars. So, we went national with the brand.

CA: What year was this?

Boruchin: It was 1990 when we acquired this company together with this brand. We also had the rights to sell the brand Moya, which is also a very old Cuban brand and also owned by the Fuente family. Moya was not as popular [as Bauza]. We had plans a few years ago before the cigar revolution--we were going to make a line of short-filler cigars with this name. But the Fuentes, of course, are so tied up in work right now that we have delayed the Moya project. We feel very strongly that in the near future Bauza is going to become a bigger brand.

CA: Between MATASA for Licenciados and A. Fuente for Bauza, what kind of production increases do you think you'll get in 1997, '98 and '99?

Boruchin: I feel strongly that we can grow at a rate of 25 to 30 percent a year in the next few years. It depends on the effort of MATASA and Fuente to expand their production capacity. And it depends on what happens with the demand of the other products. Don't forget that the Fuentes are the most sought-after cigar. The Fuente Fuente Opus X is today probably the most in-demand cigar in America. The Arturo Fuente brand is so popular that no matter how many cigars you get, they sell out within two to three days. They have a long way to go, but the effort being done to catch up is tremendous. I feel pretty optimistic about the future when it comes to getting more products from them.

CA: Is your family in the business now?

Boruchin: Yes. I have my son-in-law [Oded Ben-arie] in the business. He is second in command. He does a tremendous job. I am not there as much as I used to be. A friend of mine makes a Big Smoke every month. I'm absent three, four days a month just for that, and for trips to the Dominican Republic and Honduras. So, I'm away and he's always there and he runs the business now.

CA: Is Mike still in business?

Boruchin: Mike is still in the business.

CA: How old is he today?

Boruchin: Mike was born 1/11/11, so, he is 86. At one point, when he sold us the business, he retired. He came back about six months later; he asked me if he could come back to work a few hours a day, and, of course, for me it was a blessing. He watches my back. As long as Mike is there, nobody is going to stab me in the back. He's like a bodyguard always. Today, he puts in eight, nine, 10 hours a day.

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