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An Interview with Ernesto Perez-Carrillo

Owner, El Credito Cigar Co., makers of La Gloria Cubana, La Hoja Selecta, El Rico Habano and Dos Gonzales cigars.

Ernesto Perez-Carrillo was quietly making cigars in Miami in 1992 at his El Credito Cigar Co. Local cigar lovers and a small cult of smokers nationwide coveted his La Gloria Cubana brand as well as three other brands he made at the small factory in Miami's Little Havana district. His production of fewer than one million cigars a year allowed him to keep his loyal customers supplied, and permitted him the luxury of keeping inventories of tobacco. He could age his tobacco as well as his cigars, and bring them to market when they were ready. Then, a sterling rating in Cigar Aficionado for his La Gloria Cubana Wavell and a subsequent story about his family-style operation in the Spring 1993 issue of Cigar Aficionado changed Carrillo's life forever.
Within months, orders for La Gloria Cubana outstripped Carrillo's ability to make them. He admittedly lost track of just how many back orders he had, as the stories among his loyal followers became legendary; some waited up to six months for an order to be filled. Many people, instead of giving up, made a pilgrimage to the El Credito factory on S.W. 8th Street.
Finally, the pressure in Miami became too great, and with the advent of new factories in the city, Carrillo knew that competition for rollers and skilled laborers would raise the already high cost of making cigars in America. He began looking for property outside the country, settling on a location in the Dominican Republic. In a wide-ranging interview last November with Marvin R. Shanken, the editor and publisher of Cigar Aficionado, Carrillo discussed the trials and tribulations of the past four years, and his incredible success.
Cigar Aficionado: When did you open your factory in the Dominican Republic?
Carrillo: We closed the deal in November 1995, and we began making cigars as of April 8, 1996. By coincidence, that is the same month and day I took over the factory in Miami in 1980. We've been rolling cigars there now for about six months.
CA: What motivated you to open a new facility in the Dominican Republic after you've had a very successful small business in Miami? Why did you decide to expand your business?
Carrillo: I'd been coming to the Dominican Republic to buy tobacco. About four or five years ago, I went to look at a site there and thought to myself, "If I ever was going to open up in the Dominican Republic, it would be somewhere away from the rest of the free zones," where, as you know, most of the cigar factories are. I went down in 1995 to buy tobacco, and the day before I was leaving I went to see Mr. Federico Dominguez, who's the owner of [an industrial park in the Pisano free trade zone], and he said, "Let me show you around the park." So, we looked around, and I saw this place. I fell in love with it right away.
CA: What was going on in your business that led to the decision to expand in the first place?
Carrillo: There was no room for growth in Miami. Miami is a very limited market nowadays, especially with all the new factories opening up. I decided if I wanted to grow, and reach more consumers, spread my cigars around more, I would have to do it somewhere else.
CA: In 1996, how many cigars in total were you able to produce in Miami?
Carrillo: In Miami, we produced about 1.2 million.
CA: How many of those are La Gloria Cubana?
Carrillo: La Gloria Cubana was about 80 percent of the production.
CA: Are you at a point now where you can't produce more than 1.2 million in Miami?
Carrillo: Right.
CA: Are you at your total capacity in Miami?
Carrillo: I'm at it now.
CA: In your factory in the Dominican Republic, how many different brands are you producing?
Carrillo: We are producing La Gloria Cubana, La Hoja Selecta, El Rico Habano and Dos Gonzales.
CA: How many cigars did you produce between April and December?
Carrillo: We ended up with 2.2 million cigars.
CA: What percentage was La Gloria Cubana?
Carrillo: About 60 percent.
CA: And the next largest brand?
Carrillo: Second was El Rico Habano and third was La Hoja Selecta.
CA: So in 1997 you'll produce 1.2 million in Miami and how many in the Dominican Republic?
Carrillo: In the D.R., about six million.
CA: You will go to six million?
Carrillo: That's what we're shooting for. The only thing that might hold us back is lack of tobacco, which is a big problem now.
CA: I think people are interested to know, first of all, is there a designation on the cigar band that says whether it's from Miami or from the Dominican Republic?
Carrillo: Yes. It will be on the cigar box or bundle. We have to mark that on the bottom.
CA: But not on the band.
Carrillo: No.
CA: Is the blend exactly the same?
Carrillo: The blend is the same blend that we use in the Miami factory: Dominican and Nicaraguan tobacco.
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