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An Interview with Stanford Newman

Chairman, J.C. Newman Cigar Co., Tampa, Florida, the owners of Cuesta-Rey and Diamond Crown cigars.
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Claudia Schiffer, Jul/Aug 97

(continued from page 4)

CA: In effect, the Dominican Republic tobacco industry began to evolve when the Cubans left Cuba and searched for new homes, and began to practice their trade in a comparable climate. How were the cigars different? And what was the reaction from people who had been smoking Cuban cigars from Tampa all these years and now, all of a sudden, had to smoke something different?
Newman: Cuban tobacco had its own distinct flavor. But the people couldn't buy Cuban cigars anymore, so they had to change their taste. Some of the Cubans brought tobacco seeds from Cuba into Nicaragua and Honduras and the Dominican Republic. It was a heavier, more aromatic type of tobacco. They started to grow the Cuban-seed tobacco, and the majority of the cigars that were made in those countries were made from that tobacco. But they didn't taste the same.

CA: What was the reaction from cigar smokers in America when they were no longer able to buy Tampa-made Cuban cigars and they were now given this alternative? Was there a good reaction? Was there, you know, "This is not my cigar. It doesn't taste a bit like it," or "Hey, this is nice"? What was the reception for the Dominican cigar?
Newman: The cigars that started to come from Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, the smokers accepted them because they couldn't buy anything else. Some of those cigars were better than others, especially the ones with aged tobacco. But those are the ones that even today people like better.

CA: Is it fair to say that the embargo, because it permitted these Cuban-exile cigarmakers to set up operations in other countries, triggered the beginning of the premium cigar market as we know it today in America?
Newman: When they started to make cigars in the Dominican Republic and Honduras and Nicaragua, they were priced at the same prices that we were selling them in Tampa, 26 cents. However, they took the business away from Tampa because those new cigars were handmade.

CA: After the embargo, to the best of your recollection, what was the first premium brand to surface and emerge as a premium handmade cigar sold in America from the islands?
Newman: The first brands that came into the United States that were handmade were from the Canary Islands. One was Montecruz, brought in by the Dunhill people. And there was, I think, Don Diego. There may have been one or two others, but they were small.

CA: What about Macanudos?
Newman: Macanudo, I think, started out in about 1964. I remember that my friend Martin Annis in Tampa told me that he'd gotten a call from Edgar Cullman [Sr.], on vacation at his home in Jamaica. He wanted to know if he should buy a factory called Temple Hall that was making about four million cigars a year. He asked Marty, who was already working for the General Cigar Co. at the time, whether he thought he could sell the cigars. Marty said, "Go ahead and buy it." So, Cullman bought the Temple Hall factory. Now, there were no Macanudos sold in this country at the time. There were a few Temple Hall cigars sold, there were some other brands that were sold by Faber, Coe & Gregg. Most of the Macanudos at that time were sold outside of the United States.

CA: Was Royal Jamaica around at this point?
Newman: Royal Jamaica came in a little bit later. That was a family by the name of Gore, who made them in Jamaica.

CA: Tell me how your relationship with the Fuente family began.
Newman: In 1980, I saw what was happening to the whole industry in Tampa. It was clear to me then that these people from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic and Honduras were taking some of our business. It wasn't critical for us because our business was so strong. We were able to sell some of our machine-made Cuesta-Reys, especially our Cuesta-Rey '95s, because the quality was so good. We were the only ones at that time using Cameroon tobacco. We were able to sustain our brand. Still, we were looking to have our cigars made in Nicaragua, or in the Dominican Republic, by hand. After making a survey, I realized there was no way that I could have cigars made unless I'd run the factory myself. I was a little frustrated about that because I never found a factory that I could connect up with.

In 1986, Carlos Fuente [Sr.] was running a factory in Tampa for himself. He had also set up shop in 1980 in the Dominican Republic. Just prior to that, for a couple of years, he had been manufacturing in Nicaragua and he got burned out there from the revolution. So, he went to the Dominican Republic in 1980 with a couple of cigarmakers and he started a factory down there. I'd known him for about 20 years. I thought he was always one of the finest cigar manufacturers, even though he was small at the time.

When he came to me in 1986, right after I had bought out my other family members, he walked in and he said that he would like to close his factory in Tampa, and he'd like us to make cigars for him. I said, "Well, of course, let me see what the prices would be." I did that, and realized I couldn't make any profit on the deal. So, I said to him, "I'll make them on one condition: if you'll make cigars for us." And he said, "Well, I'll do that."

I was looking for somebody to make cigars who I could really trust. And if there's any person in the world that I'd known who I could trust, it was Carlos Fuente. And so I said, "Well, let's sit down and make four or five shapes, and let's get a blend that you think will sell, and we will put them in bundles." I had a brand that we'd bought when we acquired Cuesta-Rey called La Unica. We weren't using the label, so I said, "Let's put this in bundles of 20 cigars of five sizes and we will sell them to 300 or 400 cigar stores. In six months, if we see it's successful, if people like them and they like the blend, we'll take the brand off the market and we will start slowly changing Cuesta-Rey to hand-rolled, and have you make it for us."

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Comments   1 comment(s)

Clifford Brown — independence, ky, usa,  —  May 14, 2013 3:47pm ET

That is a truly amazing article!

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