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Cigar Diary: Mexico's Cigar King

Max Gutmann is one of the world's great collectors of Cuban cigars as well as Mexico's official Cuban cigar agent.
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Armand Assante, Mar/Apr 2008

(continued from page 5)

Then I had a friend who was going to Cuba all the time on business. He later became my partner in the cigar business. Anyway, I said, "You know what? When you go to Cuba, bring me back two or three boxes of different types of cigars." So he would bring me some boxes and then he would go again and bring me some different ones. I was always so excited when he would come back with those cigars.

Then one time I said, "Bring me back 20 boxes." And he brought me a whole export carton full of boxes of cigars. He also brought me a catalog with all the brands and sizes of cigars the Cubans exported.

CA: I remember that. It was the one that was laminated. I have a copy.

Gutmann: I looked at that catalog and I decided to have a collection and build a small room in my house to keep my cigars. My friend then brought me a suitcase full of cigars! Back then it was no problem. There was no duty. It was no big deal, especially with cigars. Then I had this idea: "Let's try to set up a cigar shop and only specialize in Cuban cigars." I told him I would put up the money. So we did it.

CA: So this was before you were the official agent for Cuban cigars?

Gutmann: Yes. Before we were the agent. So we got an architect and he made a design for a small shop called La Casa del Habano. We went to Cuba and presented it to them. It took them two years to agree.

CA: Was that in the early 1990s?

Gutmann: Yes. They were afraid. They had had bad experiences with Davidoff. So they were worried. Finally they agreed after seeing the model of the store. But they insisted that it should be in Cancœn and not Mexico City. I guess because Cancœn is closer to Cuba, so they could more easily check on it.

CA: I remember it. It was in a shopping mall. So you owned the name as well?

Gutmann: Yes. But one day I got a call from the head of Cubatabaco [the former name of Habanos S.A.] and he said, "Max, I want you to go to the lawyers and endorse the name La Casa del Habano to us."

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