Felix Menendez was a legendary figure in the cigar world. Not withstanding his family lineage, he helped put Brazilian tobacco on the map after his family was forced from Cuba. Born in Cuba in 1944, Felix passed away in Brazil on December 14, 2018.
Samuel Spurr wrote a feature on Felix and Menendez Amerino Cigars a decade ago. In researching an obituary for Felix, he unearthed his old interview with Felix, presented here as a fitting tribute to the man.
Sam Spurr: Tell me about your family’s history in Cuba and involvement with tobacco there.
Felix Menendez: My father, Alonso Menendez Garcia was a partner, with his brothers and Mr. Jose M. Garcia in Menendez Garcia and Cia., manufacturers of Montecristo and H. Upmann trademarks. My grandfather Jose Toraño Gonzales was a grower and packer of leaf tobacco. I was born in Havana in 1944, studied there and in the US, and at age of 13 started working in the factory during the summer time. All my family, from my father’s and mother’s sides at one time or another have been involved with tobacco, working with tobacco for me is a way of life. I have been involved with premium cigars and tobacco since before I can remember.
S.S.: Your family’s forced move to the Canary Islands introduced you to the Amerino Family and Brazilian tobacco. Was this a key event in your involvement with premium cigars?
F.M.: After the family properties were taken by the government, we moved to Spain where my father was born. Since we were from Cuba, we only worked with Cuban tobacco and at that time the US embargo on Cuban products was in effect. So we had to research other sources of tobacco, and then I came to know Brazilian Mata Fina.
S.S.: How did you first begin working with the Amerino Family?
F.M.: The Amerino family was involved in growing and packing tobacco from the early 20th century and is represented today by Mario Amerino da Silva Portugal. Amerino Portugal was one of the suppliers of tobacco to Compañia Insular Tabacalera (Compañia Insular Tabacalera was founded by Felix’s father and his partners in the early 1960s), and Mario suggested we have a factory were the raw material was grown.
S.S.: Carlos Torano’s cousin, Arturo Torano, is your master blender. How did he come to work with you and what impact has he had?
F.M.: Arturo is very knowledgeable man of tobacco, with a huge amount of experience. Besides being our chief blender, he heads our packing house. Arturo is like a brother to me. When we were in the Canary Islands, we used to buy tobacco from Carlos Toraño’s father. With Carlos Toraño we have a good family relation.
S.S.: Your Menendez Amerino production is currently based in Salvador, Bahia. what is it about the local terroir that makes tobacco growing perfect?
F.M.: Our Factory is located in São Gonçalo dos Campos city of the state of Bahia. And Tobacco is easy affected by the micro environment of the particular region. The Reconcavo Bahiano, is a region of Bahia that combines all factors to grow Mata Fina and Mata Norte.
S.S.: What impact did your father have on your appreciation of tobacco?
F.M.: I have a tremendous respect for my father as person and as tobacco man. I’m only too sorry that I was only 21 when he passed away. I would have liked to learn more from him.