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.
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CA: Where was this?
Carrillo: In Cuba. Havana, Cuba.
CA: So they were in the business and they handed it down to your father?
Carrillo: When my father started out, he worked for Cuban Land Leaf Tobacco Co., which was an American company that would buy Cuban tobacco and resell it in the U.S. or wherever.
CA: What year was that?
Carrillo: That was about 1928.
CA: So he worked for an American company, but in Cuba.
Carrillo: He used to be the tobacco buyer.
CA: Tell me a little bit about his life.
Carrillo: He was a man with a lot of guts. There's a story about him, one time before the [Second World] war; there was an excess of tobacco and nobody, none of the big companies, wanted to buy any tobacco.
CA: They didn't need it?
Carrillo: So he went around, he bought everything that he could get. He would buy it for, let's say, a dollar a pound, whatever. A fortune at that time. And he had a warehouse in Havana full of tobacco, I think, at one time he had over 4,000 bales or something like that. The war came and there was no tobacco to be found, so the only person to have tobacco was him. At that time he sold that tobacco; he made a large amount of money and that helped him to become independent.
CA: What was his name?
Carrillo: Ernesto Perez-Carrillo.
CA: Did he come to America at some point?
Carrillo: He would visit the U.S. while he was in the Cuban senate, which he got elected to in 1954 and in '58.
CA: The senate in Cuba?
Carrillo: He represented Pinar del Río. In '59, he had to leave Cuba because he was being pursued. And he was here for about 10 years before he decided to start making cigars again.
CA: In 1959, he came to Miami, and what business did he go into?
Carrillo: He had a bar. He had a restaurant. You know, all kinds of different things.
CA: Was he allowed to take some money out of Cuba?
CA: So he started with nothing when he came?
Carrillo: Nothing. Absolutely nothing. My father was the type of person that money meant nothing to him. He didn't have that much money in Cuba, and when he came over he didn't have any money. He never thought of abandoning the island; the only reason he did it was because he was arrested at different times [for being a member of the liberal party].
CA: So he came in '59 and he later opened the cigar factory El Credito. What year was that?
Carrillo: He created it in 1968.
CA: In '68 and he started making...
Carrillo: El Credito. He started making fumas and cazadores, short filler cigars in the 44- to 46-ring gauge and different lengths. His first real big customer was Hank Greenberg from Suburban News, Chicago. And that's how he started making long, Cuban-style cigars.
CA: Were they a distributor or retailer?
Carrillo: They had three or four stores in Chicago. In the premium cigars, [my father] would make five or six different sizes and sell it under El Rico Habano.
CA: When did La Gloria Cubana come into being?
Carrillo: La Gloria Cubana came about in 1972. But that was mostly sold in the store or through mail orders. My father would come home at night and go through the Yellow Pages. At that time they had the addresses to send mailers and that type of thing. And my mother, myself, my wife would send them out.
CA: How were you able to get the La Gloria Cubana name?
Carrillo: My father registered it. In Cuba, where we had the El Credito cigar factory, the La Gloria Cubana factory was there also. And at that time, he had bought the rights of the brands from the people at La Gloria.
CA: What year was that?