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Fuente's Right Hand Man

Wayne Suarez is the strong and quiet force behind the scenes at Arturo Fuente, the world's largest family-owned cigar brand.
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
George Lopez, January/February 2010

(continued from page 1)

"He's a great ambassador for the cigar industry," says John Anderson, the co-owner of W. Curtis Draper Tobacconist Inc. in Washington, D.C., a shop a few blocks from the White House. Chuck Levi, owner of the venerable Iwan Ries & Co., a 153-year-old cigar store in downtown Chicago, calls Suarez "one of the most knowledgeable cigar guys." Levi has known him for nearly 20 years. "I always get an education when I talk to him. He's a great cigar guy—he knows what's going on in the marketplace."

Suarez grew up around cigars, in a simpler time when they were smoked in every possible venue. His grandparents were cigarmakers in Tampa, back when it was the cigar capital of the United States, and his father worked as a cigar factory color sorter. "If you were Latin, Spanish, Cuban, Italian back then, somebody worked in a cigar factory," says Suarez, who is Spanish and Italian.

Cigars were a familiar sight in the Suarez household and he puffed on them from an early age. "I smoked them on Sundays at my grandfather's house. The whole family always went there. Every once in a while I would grab a cigar." When he was in high school, all his classmates puffed on cigarettes. "I didn't like cigarettes," he said. "Being in Tampa, the family being in the cigar business, I started smoking cigars."

As fate would have it, the first cigar he remembers smoking was made by the family he would later join as an adult. "The first cigar I ever smoked was an Arturo Fuente Curly Head," says Suarez, referring to an inexpensive cigar made by Fuente. "They looked different then—made in Tampa with an unfinished end—you could paint a wall with it," he says with a chuckle, referring to the bristly head of the old cigars, which are now made in the Dominican Republic with a much more comely appearance.

The teen years were influential for Suarez. His father died when he was 16, leaving him to be raised by his mother. Her handling of the arduous task of going it alone left an imprint on Suarez forever. "When I was in high school, my mother worked two or three jobs. She gave me my work ethic—work hard, not take short cuts. Her line was, 'If you're not going to do it right son, just don't do it.'"

Suarez also was a teen when he met his future brother-in-law, Carlos Fuente Jr., who today is the president of the Fuente cigar empire. "We had some mutual friends. We all grew up in Ybor City and moved to West Tampa," says Suarez. In 1988, he became part of the Fuente family when he married Carlos's sister, Cynthia. In 1992, he joined the business.

Becoming part of the business meant learning the Fuente way of doing things, and that meant moving, in 1993, from Tampa to the Dominican Republic, where Fuente makes all of its cigars. "Sr. and Jr. wanted us to learn the business from the ground up," he says. The move was tough. He and Cynthia had two toddlers: Christina, who was three at the time, and Bianca, then one. Their son, Carlos, had not been born. They moved in with Carlos Fuente Sr. and his wife Anna, and Wayne learned firsthand about his father-in-law's legendary work ethic. He also got an early lesson in doing things the right way.

Arturo Fuente Hemingways are aged for six months after rolling. Suarez was moving through the original Fuente factory one day when he came across a sizeable amount of Hemingways sitting in the aging room. They had been aging for five months and three weeks. Back in the United States the perfectos were like gold, deeply back-ordered. Suarez thought for a moment and came up with what he thought was a gem of an idea.

"I figured by the time the cigars go through color sorting, get cellophaned, boxed, then shipped, they would be six months old. More," he says. He ordered the cigars to be packed and shipped. Problem solved. "I thought it was a brilliant move," he says.

Then his father-in-law came into the packing room.

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