Marvin R. Shanken interviews the man behind Hoyo de Monterrey and Punch.
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Linda Evangelista, Autumn 95
(continued from page 12)
Blumenthal: Thirteen or 14. [A few years later] I went into the service in World War II. I was in the service for three years, from 1942 to 1945, in the Air Force. When I came out, I worked as a salesman on the road, selling pipes and cigars for a fella by the name of Harry Goldfogle, the owner of Schilty Cigar stores. I worked there for a few years. Then I had an opportunity to open a store. I knew the landlord of the building at 86th Street and Broadway. My father in the meantime got sick. So I helped him out at his stores.
Finally, I opened my store at 86th and Broadway. In those days, I smoked dark cigars. You couldn't buy a dark cigar in the city of New York, except at Dunhill, which had Montecristo. But no one made an actual cigar, everything was candela wrapped. When I opened a store I said there must be a lot of people like me who want dark and natural cigars. So I opened a store about 1950, or '51.
C.A.: That was your first store?
Blumenthal: That was my only store, and it was called Daniel Cigars. I featured dark cigars. I went to Cuba in 1954. The first time I went to Cuba I imported a brand, El Rey del Mundo. The Cuesta-Rey people and I were very friendly at that time. They owned the El Rey del Mundo factory. I got the exclusive agency for the United States for El Rey del Mundo and for Ramon Allones. Then I started to import the cigars. I also had the exclusive agency on Quintero and Cano, which were not the best. They were not the normal import brands. But they were brands that were sold in Spain and were very fine cigars.
C.A.: So you became the licensed importer for those cigars?
Blumenthal: Yes, I had the agency for the United States. They had no one up to that point. I started bringing in anywhere from 700,000 to a million cigars a year. Meanwhile, I was wrapped up in the wholesale business because I didn't like doing retail business. That's a seven-day-a-week job, you know, from seven in the morning to midnight. I found that I liked the wholesale business better, so I put my efforts into it.
Before that happened, a writer by the name of Bernard Wolf came to see me. He was originally Trotsky's secretary in Mexico. He was writing an article for True magazine. Anyway, the article somehow wound up in Esquire. It was about the Greens versus the Browns. He mentioned my store and what I said about dark or natural wrapper cigars. The next day, I was in the mail-order business. Sacks of mail came in with checks. Actors also used to come in. Ernie Kovacs was there, he used to buy his cigars from me. There was the play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I supplied the cigars to Burl Ives that he smoked on the Broadway show. Zero Mostel used to buy his cigars from me. Ira Gershwin I used to sell cigars to. Arthur Freed, a movie producer, I used to sell him cigars. Walter Matthau and the fella, the other actor that he pals around with?
C.A.: Jack Lemmon.
Blumenthal: Jack Lemmon.
C.A.: Today, you have an interest in Tinder Box, America's largest retail cigar store chain. What role does it play in the Villazon operation?
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