Marvin R. Shanken interviews the man behind Hoyo de Monterrey and Punch.
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Linda Evangelista, Autumn 95
(continued from page 5)
Blumenthal: The cigars that we were getting from the Canary Islands, for instance, some were machine-made. The only ones who made a good cigar there were the Menendez Garcia people. Most were made with the European type of tobacco, which I call Sumatra or Indonesian filler. It had an entirely different taste than Americans were used to. But you have to remember that almost every cigar in the United States that was made before the embargo was either made out of Havana tobacco or had some Havana tobacco in it. Even the cheaper cigars. You could buy Havana cigars for a nickel.
C.A.: So when you start coming out with these Honduran cigars, how did you get consumers to understand that you were producing a Havana-equivalent cigar from Honduras? Was there a lot of consumer resistance in the beginning?
Blumenthal: No. When I started with Bances, which was a Cuban-style cigar, there were still Cuban cigars on the market. But people liked the cigar and they bought it. As time went on, the straight Cuban cigars disappeared. Suddenly after the embargo, there were a lot of new cigars on the market, a lot of cigars made in Miami in what we call buckeye shops. There were some other cigar factories that opened up in Costa Rica. From the Dominican Republic, the only one on the market at that time was La Aurora, which was named after the dictator Trujillo's daughter. Jamaica had a history of cigars; Royal Jamaica was made there along with Macanudo. But with Cuban cigars gone from the market, there was a need for good, full-flavored cigars. The Bances filled a bill for people who remembered Havana. That's the only way I can look at it.
C.A.: So people knew to look for your cigar, and they liked it? Did it have more taste? Was it stronger?
Blumenthal: I wouldn't say it was stronger, but it had more flavor, the aroma was better because most Sumatra cigars have a very acrid and a very metallic taste. Our taste was closer to Cuba, and the aroma, the bouquet of the cigar, was closer to Cuba.
C.A.: Could you explain the current corporate structure of your cigar-related companies?
Blumenthal: Villazon and Co. is owned by Frank and myself.
C.A.: That's the parent company?
Blumenthal: That's the parent company. And Tito Gonzalez, the general manager, is a minority stockholder. In Honduras, Frank and I own approximately half of the factory today. Johnny Oliva has 18 or 19 percent. The balance is owned by the people who are working down there--the manager, the assistant manager. We gave them the stock because we felt that that was the way to keep them there, and it worked. James B. Russell, which is another company we have, is an importer and is now owned by Villazon and Co.
C.A.: Vilco Imports?
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