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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 1)

CA: And what role did he play when he was in the tobacco business?

Quesada: Well, the way the company was structured, there were always five managing directors or managing partners or whichever title they had, and my grandfather, of course, started as the fifth managing partner and moved all the way to first managing partner. That's what my father did, too. He started at the bottom and worked his way up. Some of my great uncles, cousins to my father, were also in that echelon of the company. Once they got involved in the company, they would be assigned different things such as the oversight of the farms or the warehouses, or they would be involved in sales. My grandfather and my father both had done the whole circuit of different jobs in the company.

CA: Is it fair to say that you stepped into your father's shoes?

Quesada: In Dominican Republic, yes. Because in Cuba we were too young to work. So we did not have any experience in Cuba.

CA: How long have you been working in the tobacco business?

Quesada: Since I was 13 years old. I'm 50 now. Thirty-seven years. I started when I was 13, but then I went to college, then into the army.

CA: Did you go to school in the United States?

Quesada: Yes. High school in Miami Beach, St. Patrick's, and college in Dominican Republic and then a master's degree from Florida State, in Tallahassee.

CA: I remember visiting your quaint, small, ordinary, but charming factory in 1991. Can you recall what your mission or strategy was in terms of the cigar business then, versus what your mission has become because of the change in the cigar market? What were your priorities then versus today?

Quesada: As much as I hate to tell you, back in the early '90s--'89, '90, '91--we were still suffering from the hangover of the 1980s when the market had slid. Business was slow. We were not growing in numbers to write home about and we were sort of in a doldrums state. We were making cigars, we were growing tobacco, we were warehousing tobacco basically in the same fashion we had been doing for years, and what we really didn't have was a challenge. We didn't have something to say, Let's really put ourselves to the test and see what we can do, if anything. Because one never knows what could happen. This may be a harsh judgment, and perhaps it was the case for the whole industry, but I think it was the case in our facility. We were making what we considered to be good cigars, even excellent cigars at the time. But we were within the parameters of what we had been doing in the past. Same filler, same binders, same wrappers, same fermentation processes, same blends, same brands, same markets. We were following in the footsteps of what we had been doing in the past. Creativeness in a market that really didn't show vast promise was curtailed, and we were suffering from that, I believe.

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