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Q&A: The Silent Legend

An Interview with Alfons Mayer, the globe-travelling tobacco buyer for General Cigar Co.
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Morgan Freeman, Mar/Apr 2005

For decades, Alfons Mayer was one of the world's most powerful tobacco men, buying all the tobacco leaf needed to fuel one of the cigar industry's juggernauts, General Cigar Co., the maker of Macanudo, Partagas and, at the time, myriad machine-made cigars such as Garcia y Vega, White Owl and Tiparillo. Mayer, who also helped create General's blends and spent most of each year traveling the globe, is a self-described introvert who shunned the press, turning down many requests for interviews over the years. He is familiar to all in the industry but is largely unknown to readers of Cigar Aficionado.

In January, the 78-year-old Mayer allowed senior editor David Savona into his Warren, New Jersey, home, a repository of memorabilia, notes and photos from Mayer's endless trips througout the world—almost a museum of tobacco. Filing cabinets brim with information from his decades in the business, including the book of notes he kept from his five-year apprenticeship in Cuba that began in 1952. Newspaper and magazine clippings hang on the walls in the few spaces not occupied by photographs of his family and cigar industry luminaries. A cabinet humidor amid the carefully organized clutter of his office holds cigars from decades ago as well as today, and two upstairs rooms have been converted into humidified storage for thousands of his very own Alfons Mayer cigars. Ashtrays of various colors and shapes cover nearly every table—Mayer still smokes six or seven cigars a day. The interview began over Alfons Mayer cigars and concluded with two Montecristo No. 1 lonsdales put in the box in 1959.

David Savona: Let's go back and talk about your history in the tobacco business.

Alfons Mayer: I grew up in a tobacco family. I was born in 1927. My grandfather had a company named A. Mayer & Co. They were the Sumatra sandblatt kings.

Q: And sandblatt is?

A: Sandblatt is the bottom leaves, the last three leaves on the plant. Sandleaf, they call it, because it is sandy soil.

Q: So your grandfather founded A. Mayer, and your father was in the business as well. Where were you born?

A: In Amsterdam.

Q: What was it like growing up there?

A: Ah, it was great, because you're an innocent bystander as a kid. But then you have to realize that in 1940, the [German] invasion came, and it was rotten.

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