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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

(continued from page 9)

Quesada: Some go into generic brands, or bundles, or smaller, lesser known brands, regional brands.

CA: In the Dominican Republic last year, there was a huge surge in the price of tobacco, and a huge surge in what new factories were willing to pay for rollers. Has the dust settled? Where are things now? You hear stories about a number of factories that have closed, of rollers that left where they were and now are trying to get their old jobs back. Are tobacco prices rolling back? What's really happening in the Dominican Republic regarding handmade cigars?

Quesada: In January 1997, we lost--and when I say we I mean, Arturo Fuente, Davidoff, General Cigar and MATASA--thosefour factories lost over 350 cigarmakers. That occurred in the period between Christmas vacation and the January opening of those factories.

CA: In a two-week period.

Quesada: In a two-week period, these 350-odd cigarmakers were taken away by new companies starting to make cigars in Dominican Republic. But we had been training people for two years before that event, so we had been replenishing and getting ready for a situation like this. Nevertheless, when you substitute a cigarmaker with a trainee, your output does come down a bit. We saw a dip in our production numbers in the first four or five months of this year. Then we started coming back on line with the addition of more trained people. As of today, the cigarmakers are starting to come back. After the RTDA [Retail Tobacco Dealers of America] convention in August, some of the new ventures, some of the new factories, found that their product wasn't selling as easily in the market today as it was maybe six or eight or 10 months ago. They have cut back production, therefore, letting go of a number of the cigarmakers that were originally taken from us.

CA: Have there been many of the new factories closed down?

Quesada: I don't have an exact number on that. We do know that the cigarmakers are coming back to the factories looking for jobs, so therefore we assume that there has been a cutback. Whether it's a total shutdown or a severe cutback in production that is occurring, I don't know for sure.

CA: What seems to be the attitude of the manufacturers? Are they welcoming back their former employees or basically saying, You went for the dollar, good luck.

Quesada: No. We are being selective, because a lot of the cigarmakers that left in January, left under less than good situations. But we are taking back a lot of the old cigarmakers. They are starting as new personnel in the factories, but we are taking them back.

CA: Looking at the major brand that you own, Fonseca, in terms of image, in terms of sizes, in terms of geographic distribution, what is your sense of where you want to take it in the next three years?

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