An Interview with Edgar M. Cullman Sr.
Chairman of the Culbro Corporation
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Bill Cosby, Autumn 94
(continued from page 9)
C.A.: When and how did you end up owning the Partagas brand name in the United States since it is one of the original Cuban brands?
Cullman: Ramon Cifuentes, who was the owner of the family-owned Partagas brand of cigars in Havana, came to work for us when he got out of Cuba. He associated himself with us by selling wrapper tobacco. This was about 1963 or 1964. He did all kinds of odd things for us, as did (Benjamin) Menendez. A lot of the ex-Cubans came to work for us. We got to be good friends.
In the mid-'70s, we were talking about what to do aboutPartagas cigars. I think he got disillusioned that he was never going to go back to Cuba.
C.A.: So he owned the brand. But he thought for the first 10 years that he's going to go back, Castro is going to be ousted, and he would have his factory back. And then he realizes that...?
Cullman: May never be. So, around 1974 I said, what do you think about selling the brand? That's not a bad idea, he said. So we discussed the selling of the brand, and I talked to his uncle, his brothers and his nephews in Spain. Then I had a talk with the people who worked at General Cigar. They said, you can't do that, we are going to do business with Castro tomorrow. We are going to recognize Cuba. And I said, it's not going to happen that fast. I made my bet that we could own the Partagas brand, make it a brand and nothing would happen in Cuba.
C.A.: At this point, were any of the other Cuban brands being sold in America under separate ownership?
Cullman: No. This was the first one as far as I know. I don't want to categorically say that, but I think we were the first. [Consolidated Cigar had had a relationship with the Montecristo brand before General Cigar bought the Partagas Brand.]
So we negotiated a deal and we bought them. We started making the Partagas brand. They took off unbelievably. We priced it a little bit higher than Macanudo and made it with a Cameroon wrapper.
C.A.: From the product standpoint, the distinction was in the wrapper, a little bit higher pricing, the package, which was the same as it is now and the same distribution system. Did you market it? Did you spend money advertising it?
Cullman: Yes. The packaging is the same as in Cuba. We mar-keted it. We spent money advertising it with Ramon Cifuentes in the ads. It started to grow so fast that we had to decide whether we could expand in Jamaica or whether it was wise to have another place to make these cigars. At that point, we had our shade operation in Connecticut and our tobacco-sorting operation in the Dominican Republic. So we spoke to the officials in the Dominican Republic's free zone and they welcomed us.
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Ed Harvey — Auburn, WA, United States, — August 31, 2011 3:19am ET
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