Fathers and Sons, Part 1
The cigar industry owes much of its creativity and longevity to the unique partnerships between father-and-son cigarmakers
From the Print Edition:
Camilo Villegas, July/August 2006
(continued from page 4)
"9/11 hit," says David Blanco, a compact, confident-looking man with a soldier's haircut. The Blancos were military men before they became cigar men: David enlisted with the U.S. Army Reserve at age 18, following in the footsteps of his father, who has spent 29 years on both active and reserve duty. With America at war, the Blancos were soon shipped overseas, and their military commitments had to come before the cigar business. Cesar Blanco spent almost a year in Iraq as commander of the 375th MP Detachment, and David spent two years in Afghanistan serving with the 10th Infantry Division. "My mother was in shambles," says David, 34.
The business fared worse. "When I came back, and my father came back, we were in the toilet," says David. "And we said, 'Do we fold it, or do we go on?' My father has always been a very determined man, and it's probably one of the reasons we're doing as good as we are."
Cesar Blanco, president of Los Blancos, emigrated to the United States from Cuba in 1961, when he was 14. His father had served in the Cuban house of representatives under Fulgencio Batista, and his mother was a lawyer. The Blancos settled in Chicago, following business opportunities. David, the first member of his family born in the United States, grew up in Chicago, and he seems to have a sense of adventure, having served the city as a police officer and a paramedic in the fire department. His father also served with the Chicago Fire Department, as a deputy chief. "You can say he is a chip off the old block," Cesar Blanco says of his son.
The Blancos have always had close ties with cigars, and father and son puffed away while serving in the field. Selling Los Blancos cigars has brought both of them closer to their roots. "This has brought me back to the family business," says David Blanco, who serves as the vice president of business development for Los Blancos. "I hope this takes me to my golden ages."
CARLOS AND CHARLIE TORAÑO
For generations, the men of the Toraño family joined the tobacco business. "This is who we were," says Carlos Toraño, who learned about tobacco at the side of his father, one of the most famous figures in the tobacco world. The man lived, breathed and even died tobacco: he is remembered for bringing the first Cuban seeds to the Dominican Republic, and died after having a heart attack in a curing barn.
"I've always said the name of Toraño is synonymous with tobacco, because I could not recall any Toraño family members who were not involved in tobacco," says Carlos Toraño, 63. "I'm talking about cousins, second cousins, uncles, second uncles, everybody I knew in the Toraño family—everybody was in tobacco. Growers, manufacturers or dealers or something—everyone was in tobacco."
His only son, Charlie (his given name is also Carlos, but he goes by the nickname), broke that chain temporarily, becoming a lawyer for several years. His father was happy.
"I did not think that there was a future in the cigar industry," Toraño says, speaking of the 1970s and 1980s when cigarmakers seemed headed for oblivion. "Going to the RTDAs," he says, speaking of the annual industry trade show, "maybe there were 40 booths. And you would say…" he takes a dramatic breath, spreading his arms wide for emphasis "…this is the future." With sales falling and the outlook grim, the elder Toraño never encouraged his son to join the cigar business, and was pleased when he yearned to be a lawyer, like his maternal grandfather.
As cigar sales grew stronger in the mid-1990s, the Toraño family business once again had a future. Carlos's daughter, Carolina, 37, joined the business in 1995. A year later, Charlie decided he wanted to change careers, and broached the subject of working for his father.
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