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CAO--A Family Affair

CAO Offers Pipes, Humidors and Cigars. But Founder Cano A. Ozgener's Most Important Product is His Children
Shandana A. Durrani
From the Print Edition:
Michael Douglas, May/Jun 98

(continued from page 2)

When it came time to manufacture the cigars, Ozgener says, "I went with Plasencia because he had the production [capability] at the time and he had a good organization. He had the correct vision for us."

In 1996, CAO introduced its Nicaraguan cigar line. The CAO Gold Robusto, made at Plasencia's Estelí, Nicaragua, factory, has scored highly in Cigar Aficionado ratings (it received an 89 in the August 1997 issue). While some experts have judged the Gold to be superior to his Honduran line, Ozgener vehemently opposes any such distinction. "The fact that it is called 'Gold' doesn't mean that the Nicaraguan is better than the Honduran," he says. "The tastes are different. It is like if you have espresso and a regular American coffee. To me both of [the cigar blends] are my cigars, are my children, and it is like comparing one child to another."

Comparing is something that Ozgener doesn't like to do, especially with his children. While their father speaks about CAO's history, Murat and Aylin sit attentively, cracking jokes or contributing to the conversation from time to time. When asked if there is any competition between them or if their father compares them to each other, both emphatically deny any friction.

"He [Murat] works part-time for CAO and part-time at comedy and I have a greater role in the office," Aylin says.

"It is really refreshing to work with your father when you are 2,000 miles away," Murat quips. In a more serious vein, he adds, "I am a little removed from the office so I am a little more independent. But whenever he or Aylin come out to Los Angeles, I always take them around so that people get to see what we are all about. We are not about egos, we are not about showing off. We are just trying to be who we are and do something that represents the product the best we can."

From an early age, Murat and Aylin helped their father in his business. As they watched their favorite television programs, the two youngsters attached stems or CAO stickers to pipes. When they were older, their father took them to visit the meerschaum carvers to observe them at their craft. They learned how a tobacco business operated, which would help them when they joined their father's company.

"When I started working full time in 1996, I helped mainly in sales and I helped with shipping--whatever needed to be done," Aylin says. "In a small company that is growing, you really have to play a part in many different categories. I grew to love the industry--the cigars and the people. I love working with retailers and distributors. It is good because you are mixing business with pleasure."

"I got into the business basically to pay off a debt on a car I totaled," Murat says, half-joking. "When it came time for me to go to college, I wanted to be an actor. The school that I wanted to go to was USC, in Los Angeles, because that is where the film industry is. They accepted me as one of 25 auditionees out of 500. I was out there and going through my training. I finished and then my father asked me, 'Why don't you go visit Gus' Smoke Shop' [in Sherman Oaks, California]? And the owner of Gus' would say, 'Cano, what are you doing sending me this guy in shorts who would rather be surfing?'"

But there has been no time to surf. The business has grown tremendously in the past five years. Today, CAO employs 15 people in its Nashville office. Approxi-mately 50 people craft humidors in Tennessee and almost 300 people make meerschaum pipes in Eskisehii, Turkey, for CAO. Cigars are the biggest chunk of the company's business, at 50 percent, with humidors at 40 percent and pipes at 10 percent.

Cano hopes to expand the enterprise even more. "We are optimistic and expect our cigar business to grow 30 to 100 percent [in the next two years]," he says. "I am an aggressive person. I prefer to double it and I think it is possible. There is some resistance to humidors because there are so many good, quality humidors out there and, of course, humidors don't burn, so you have a finite [market for] them. But there is a potential in growth for both meerschaum and briar pipes."

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