An Interview with Christian Eiroa
The man behind Camacho, La Fontana and Baccarat cigars from Honduras.
From the Print Edition:
Emeril Lagasse, Sept/Oct 2005
(continued from page 2)
Q: Take me back to the beginning of Caribe.
A: '89 is when my father takes over the company called Fumas Tobacco and starts Caribe Imported Cigars.
Q: What brands did Caribe have in 1989?
A: I think it was just Baccarat and National Brand. Then we started one brand in Miami called Don Felo. It's a cafeteria cigar, a cheap cigar, it [sold for 20 cents then, today it] sells from a quarter to 33 cents. And that was about it. Then Sal [Fontana] comes back in [in 1992] and starts La Fontana. And the boom's happening. The aspect of the business changed. I remember my father saying that if he was making two or three million cigars a year, he was happy. Then all of a sudden we get our production up to 17, 18 million cigars in '97. I think in 1989 Caribe had $120,000 in sales. I think we capped out in '97, which was the best year, at $17 million.
The growth wasn't a very controlled growth, it was just growth. We weren't focusing too much on the little things. We tried to organize as best we could, but at that rate of growth you're thinking, I have to satisfy these customers or someone else is going to take care of them. Of course, with my inexperience, I never imagined it would come to an end.
Q: What was it like as a youngster growing up in Honduras?
A: I was born in Honduras. My mother's father, my grandfather, was the local landlord there in Danlí, a wealthy Arab guy. I was born when we moved to Jamastran, where the farm is. We eventually moved to Danlí. Diagonally across from my house is Estelo Padrón's place [who works for Villazon], and Plasencia lived there. So I grew up with [cigar makers], and to me this business was always second nature. My father was more in the leaf business then than cigars.
Q: How did your father get into tobacco farming?
A: He gets a job working at Perfecto Garcia [in Tampa, Florida, around 1963]. And that's when [Angel] Oliva said, "This embargo thing is really screwing things up. Do you want to go to Honduras and help process tobacco?" So my father goes down to Honduras, and I think the second or third year he split off from Oliva and starts doing it himself. His big partner then was Corral Wodiska [the company that owned] Bering. But [one of the principals, Jimmy] Corral kept trying to squeeze my father for prices, and he kept switching suppliers to government-owned farms. So my father bought farms from the government, and he starts taking bigger risks, and UST gets him to grow a lot of tobacco. And that's when things go real well. He had a joint venture, they had a great relationship for almost 10 years, until my father had the accident in 1977, and he had to semi-retire.
Q: Tell me about that. He was flying the plane himself when he crashed.
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