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An Interview With Manuel Quesada

The head of Manufactura de Tabacos S.A. (Matasa), makers of Fonseca, Cubita and other cigars.
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Alec Baldwin, May/June 2004

In June 1974, Manuel Quesada, his brother Alvaro and their father, Manuel Sr., opened a cigar factory called Manufactura de Tabacos S.A. (Matasa) in Santiago, Dominican Republic. The Quesada family had worked with tobacco since the late 1800s in Cuba, but this was its first venture into cigar making. At the time, Dominican cigars were virtually unknown in the cigar world, but Matasa grew from making thousands of cigars a year to millions, thanks to the popularity of house brands such as Fonseca and Cubita, as well as a host of brands made under contract for other companies importing cigars to the United States.

Manuel Quesada, 57, visited the New York City offices of Cigar Aficionado in February to talk about his 30 years in business with senior editor David Savona, and to discuss his greatest challenge ever, dealing with the tragic accident that claimed the lives of his brother, nephew and right-hand man.

David Savona: This is a big year for you, 2004.

Quesada: Thirty years.

Q: Tell us about the history of Matasa. What month was it founded?

A: June ,74, with $100, a chair and a phone.

Q: You and your father?

A: We were running the leaf business, so I sort of moved over from the leaf business to start a factory. But my brother had come back already from college and the seminary.

Q: Why begin making cigars in the Dominican Republic?

A: In Miami, the cigarmakers that had come out of Cuba were getting older, and with the Social Security a lot of them had to be paid under the table, and it started to become a hassle. The free zones had just started in the Dominican Republic. So it was a good idea to transfer production from Miami to the Dominican Republic. In the Dominican Republic at the time, even though it didn't have a cigar history of exports, it did have a local cigar history. But for exports, nobody had thought about it, except, of course, Consolidated, which had already started in La Romana.

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