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An Interview with Manuel Quesada

Owner, MATASA, makers of Fonseca, Licenciados, Romeo y Julieta, Jose Benito, Cubita, Royal Dominicana, Credo and Casa Blanca cigars.
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Denzel Washington, Jan/Feb 98

While other cigar manufacturers have been engaged in multimillion-dollar purchases or building huge new factories, Manuel Quesada of MATASA (Manufactura de Tobacos S.A.) has quietly been building his business. The owner of the Fonseca, Jose Benito, Cubita and Royal Dominicana brands, and the manufacturer of such brands as Licenciados, Romeo y Julieta, Casa Blanca and Credo, Quesada has seen his cigar production more than triple during the past five years.

Quesada has been in the tobacco business his entire life, starting in the family enterprise at the age of 13. In Cuba, the Quesada family were leaf brokers for everything from cigarette tobacco to cigars, and one of the major exporters of Cuban tobacco to the world market. When they were forced into exile in 1960, they transferred their entire business to the Dominican Republic, where they had been buying and selling tobacco for years. It didn't take long before they began manufacturing cigars. When the cigar renaissance began in 1992, MATASA and Quesada were among the founding members of Pro-Cigar, an organization established to promote Dominican cigars.

Today, Quesada is entering a new era. One of the brands he manufactures, Romeo y Julieta, has become part of the emerging empire of Tabacalera, the Spanish tobacco giant. The brand, owned by Hollco-Rohr, gives Tabacalera an entry into the U.S. market for the first time. He's also starting a joint venture with Mike's Cigars of Miami and J.R. Tobacco to manufacture new brands in a new factory. In a recent conversation with Marvin R. Shanken, the editor and publisher of Cigar Aficionado, Quesada spoke about the huge opportunities in the cigar business and his ongoing commitment to growth and quality.

Cigar Aficionado: Your family has a long, rich past in the cigar industry and in tobacco. What drove you to choose the cigar industry as a career?
Quesada: We did not become manufacturers until we were exiled from Cuba. In Cuba we were not manufacturers, we were tobacco leaf people. My great-grandfather came to Cuba from Spain with his family. They were bakers, but the bakery wasn't big enough for him and his brother, who were the last to come to Cuba. When a debt to the family was paid with tobacco, the family told the two youngest brothers to take it and make a livelihood out of it. And they did. They started a leaf purchasing company in Cuba together.

CA: Who is they?

Quesada: My great-grandfather and his brother. Later, at the beginning of the century, they split ways to establish separate companies and they became the two largest exporters of Cuban tobacco from Cuba to international markets. And we have been competing in the world market ever since, and now in the Dominican Republic as well.

CA: What were the names of the two companies?

Quesada: Sobrinos de Antero Gonzales, our side of the family, and Constantino Gonzales, my great-grandfather's brother, the other side of the family. And we have come parallel through Cuba and the Dominican Republic until today.

CA: Was your grandfather in the business?

Quesada: My grandfather was in the business. He married my great-grandfather's daughter. He was a Quesada, not a Gonzales. The Gonzales family started the company. And then the Quesadas come in through my grandfather, who married a Gonzales daughter.

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