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An Interview with Stanford Newman

Chairman, J.C. Newman Cigar Co., Tampa, Florida, the owners of Cuesta-Rey and Diamond Crown cigars.
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Claudia Schiffer, Jul/Aug 97

(continued from page 5)

The La Unicas were so good that today, I think they are the largest-selling premium cigar in bundles. We never took them off the market because the brand was so good. One thing that always impressed me with Carlos was that he had the same feeling for the business that I did, that he believed in large inventories. And all the money that he made from 1980 till 1986, he put into tobacco. All his profits that he made. Because he felt that he could only make a good product if he had aged tobacco, and I know that you can't make good product in cigars unless you have an inventory.

CA: What kind of volume did you do with La Unica in 1996?
Newman: La Unica can be much bigger, but, of course, it's like all the other cigarsæwe can only make several million of them, and we just keep them down, but we've increased the prices like every other manufacturer. When we first put La Unica on the market, we labeled it La Unica Primeros because all the cigars that were in bundles on the market at that time were seconds from factories. And, I wanted to make darn sure that we could charge more than what the bundles go for. These cigars are primeros.

CA: So La Unica are not seconds.
Newman: No, they're firsts. They're primeros, and that was the thing, and I wanted to put them on the market. I didn't want to have any cigars with bundles. At first I didn't like the idea of having bundles. I wanted to take them off the market, and I planned to, but it became successful.

CA: How did Cuesta-Rey become part of your company?
Newman: Cuesta-Rey was a brand that was started in Atlanta in 1884 by Angel Cuesta Sr. He'd come from Spain. In 1886, he moved his factory operations to Tampa, when Tampa was being established as a cigar manufacturing city, and at that time, the Chamber of Commerceæthey called it the Board of Tradeæwould build a cigar factory and all the houses around it for the workers if they could get somebody to lease it for five years. And the Cuestas started a factory, in 1886, in Tampa. The Cuestas and I got to know each other pretty well, and when my father passed away, in 1958, I approached them about buying their business. We made a deal and it worked out very, very well.

CA: Did you buy the brand name, or the business?
Newman: We bought the business. We bought the tobacco. We bought whatever equipment we needed, and anything that had a Cuesta-Rey name on it. They had some other brands, White Heather and La Unica, and some other brands. Now, Karl Cuesta wanted to also give me some brands that were registered in Cuba, like El Rey del Mundo. And Karl said, "Just pay me for the labels." And I said, "I'll buy them, but I'll throw them away. I'm interested in just having one brand." We had the Rigoletto brand, which was our high-priced brand. We changed it to a medium-priced brand and we made the Cuesta-Rey the premium brand.

CA: How big was the Cuesta-Rey business that you bought in 1958?
Newman: At that time, it was maybe four or five million cigars.

CA: And revenue would be?
Newman: Not too much. Most of their cigars were on the cheaper end of the spectrum.

CA: Was it a good buy?
Newman: Cuesta-Rey was a name that had been established all over the world. The label had not been hurt like a lot of other brands that had once sold for 30 cents, and were now selling for 10 cents. The brand was never hurt, and that was one of the reasons I was interested in it. But another reason I was interested was that there was a Cuesta-Rey made in Cuba, but the government never registered the trademark. I knew we had an opportunity because Cuesta-Rey was one of the few brands that was being made in Tampa with a Cuban brand heritage that could be sold all over the world. The factories that are making Hoyo de Monterrey, H. Upmann or Partagas in this area can't sell these brands all over the world. So, in the last two to four years, we started to sell our products in the Pacific Rim.

CA: When did you decide to create the Diamond Crown brand?
Newman: In 1990, I decided I'd been in this business for so long that I wanted to create something different. The largest ring gauge cigar was about 50; there were a few 52 ring gauges. I thought we could make one that was 54 ring gauge. So we created five sizes, from 4 1/2 to 8 1/2 inches. All 54 ring gauge, all the same blend. The only difference was the size of the cigar. And at that time I talked this over with Carlos Fuente Sr., and Carlito [Carlos Fuente Jr.] to see if we could make something that was very special. What I wanted to do was to take Connecticut wrappers that were several years old, and keep them for about five years, and take this wrapper and re-sweat it, you know, open up the bales again and re-ferment it so that the harshness would disappear from the leaf. I wanted to take filler tobacco that was four or five years old and, combining the two, make a cigar that was special, even if it would take me two or three years to do it. So, after three years, new cigars were coming out that were more expensive. I had wanted to have the most expensive cigar on the market, and by 1994, there were so many new cigars coming out with bigger ring gauges, as big as 54, a few of them, and some of them were as expensive. Now, by the time we got them out, our cigars were still expensive. Today, they sell from, I think, between $8 and $16. We started a year ago in California. No place else. We thought we'd have a lot more cigars. We have two teams in the Fuente factory. The people were being paid by the day instead of by the piece, and they only made about 75 cigars a day. We thought we'd put out that way maybe 150,000 cigars. But then lo and behold, as we started out in California, we lost one of our teams. Somebody came in there and [took] not only ours but some of the people that were making some of the Fuente cigars, and these were some of the best people. They stole our cigarmakers and they made them supervisors in some of these new factories. So, instead of making 150,000 we made, maybe, close to 100,000, and that's about what we're making today.

CA: In 1996, you shipped how many Diamond Crowns?
Newman: About 100,000.

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Comments   1 comment(s)

Clifford Brown — independence, ky, usa,  —  May 14, 2013 3:47pm ET

That is a truly amazing article!

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