Marvin R. Shanken interviews the man behind Hoyo de Monterrey and Punch.
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Linda Evangelista, Autumn 95
Dan Blumenthal, the chairman of Villazon and Co.--manufacturer of Hoyo de Monterrey and Punch cigars in Honduras--has been in the cigar business most of his life. He started working in his father's retail cigar stores in 1939 in New York City when he was 14 years old. By the 1950s, he had his own cigar shop in Manhattan and had already begun to sell and distribute cigars that were made exclusively for him. He was a major purchaser of Cuban tobacco that went into Clear Havana cigars--cigars made in the United States with Cuban tobacco.
In the months before the Cuban embargo was imposed, Blumenthal and his business associate, Frank Llaneza, bought as much Cuban tobacco as they could find on the market. They continued to blend it into their brands until the mid-1970s. The two men also entered into a partnership to make cigars in Honduras, the first cigar makers to set up shop in that Central American country. In 1965, Blumenthal bought the rights to the Cuban trademarks Punch and Hoyo de Monterrey, manufacturing those cigars for the U.S. market. Today, Villazon produces nearly 26 million handmade cigars a year, plus another 45 to 55 million machine-made cigars manufactured in Tampa.
In a wide-ranging interview with Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher of Cigar Aficionado magazine, Blumenthal discussed his thoughts on the many changes he has seen, including his strategy when the Cuban trade embargo was imposed in 1962, and the current market for cigars.
Cigar Aficionado: I've been told you purchased as much Cuban tobacco as you could find in the months before the Cuban trade embargo was signed by President John F. Kennedy. Can you tell us the story?
Blumenthal: One of my hobbies is history. There had been this back and forth about the embargo between Eisenhower and Kennedy and Castro. And that's when talk about an embargo became widespread. I said to myself 'They're going to put on an embargo,' even though everyone else was pooh-poohing the idea. But I was even more sure after going to Cuba in 1960. I had an interview with the then minister of export. He told me in a fairly hostile way all that they were going to do to the United States. When I left Cuba, I went to Tampa to see Frank Llaneza, who was making the Francisco G. Bances cigar for me, and said I thought there was going to be an embargo. He went to Angel Oliva [a big tobacco grower], and he started buying tobacco for us.
At the time, we were already making a heavier style Cuban cigar--the Bances--that was selling well before the embargo. But when the embargo came, it was the only Cuban-style cigar on the market. People were buying it and saving their Cuban cigars. Of course, I also had three million Cuban cigars in my humidor that I bought from every refugee that came off the plane. I had a man down in Miami buying cigars.
C.A.: You were buying boxed cigars?
Blumenthal: Yes. Every brand. I started to sell them wholesale. I could hold three million cigars in my warehouse in those days, but it was a cash deal. In those days that was a lot of money. But once the embargo came along, Bances really took off too.
I also was very friendly with Fernando Palicio, who had been the owner of the Belinda and Hoyo de Monterrey factory in Havana. He came to see me about making a cigar that he could sell to his former customers here like Dunhill, Glazer Brothers, Faber. So we made a cigar called Flor de Palicio, which was all-Havana tobacco but machine-made. We sold it to Dunhill first.
C.A.: It was manufactured in Tampa?
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