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Cigar Aficionado's Hall of Fame

Six men who dedicated their lives to building the cigar industry -- and improving the cigars we smoke
CA Staff
From the Print Edition:
10th Anniversary Issue, Nov/Dec 02

(continued from page 2)

When the U.S. embargo was imposed on Cuba in 1962, Villazon & Co. was 100 percent dependent on Cuban tobacco. While other companies sold their inventories, Villazon, led by Frank Llaneza, began buying. The company flourished, a testament to the tenacity of a man once described in The Wall Street Journal as "the last grand old man of the cigar business as it was carried over from Cuba."

Frank Llaneza drawing portrait
Villazon was founded by Llaneza's father, Jose Llaneza Sr., in 1920 in Tampa, Florida. Frank Llaneza entered the family business in 1936 and assumed leadership of the company in 1953. It wasn't until the early '60s that Llaneza turned Villazon into an industry giant. Forced to develop new methods of producing Cuban-quality cigars, Llaneza bought as much Cuban tobacco as he could and began experimenting, blending Havana leaf with tobacco from the Caribbean and Central and South America, and ultimately developed a product that echoed the aromas and flavors of a Cuban cigar. "Everyone wanted to make mild cigars," he says. "We took the niche of people who were smoking heavier cigars."

Llaneza was one of the pioneers in Honduras, and, along with men such as Angel Oliva Sr., literally carved farms from the wild. He created Honduras American Tobacco Co. in 1963 with the help of Oliva, making such powerhouse brands as Punch and Hoyo de Monterrey. The company is the largest cigarmaker in Honduras, with factories in Danl" and Cofradia.

Llaneza and his partner, Dan Blumenthal, sold Villazon to General Cigar Co. in 1997 for $81.4 million. Today, Llaneza has a quieter role in the company. Looking back, he is characteristically modest. "I was very lucky," he says. The truth is that his success was built upon vision and hard work.

STANFORD NEWMAN

Chairman, J.C. Newman Cigar Co., Tampa, Florida

Standford Newman drawing portrait
In 1995, the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. celebrated its 100th anniversary. The company had come a long way from its humble beginnings in 1895, when Julius Caesar (J. C.) Newman took an order from a family grocer to make 500 cigars and rolled them himself in a barn behind his Cleveland home. Leading the celebration was the company's chairman, Stanford Newman. Now 86 years old, Newman has headed the company for more than 40 years.

Newman served in the Army Air Corps as an airplane mechanic during the Second World War, then joined the family business permanently. J. C. died in 1958, and Stanford took over. That year, he made one of the company's most important deals, acquiring the Cuesta-Rey brand. For the next two decades, J.C. Newman would be regarded as one of the best machine-made cigarmakers in the United States.

In 1986, with the cigar market uncertain, Newman bought out his relatives, then struck a fortuitous deal with the Fuente family. The Fuentes began making handmade cigars for the Newmans, and the Newmans later began distributing the Fuentes' cigars. The arrangement has been a boon to both families.

Stanford Newman often quotes his father: "If you make cigars of quality, you can stay in business for another 100 years, but if you make something cheap, somebody can always make them cheaper and you'll go out of business in six months." Still active in his ninth decade (his book, Cigar Family, was published by Forbes in 1999), Stanford works alongside his sons Eric and Robert, heirs to the Newman empire.


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