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The End of the Kelner Era at Davidoff

Oettinger Davidoff has been going through some changes over the few past years.  The first was the parting with Hendrik “Henke” Kelner.  Kelner, since 1984, was the man who founded and ran the factory in the Dominican Republic where Davidoff was made, eventually selling the factory to the company. 

A friend of Zino Davidoff’s had a club in Geneva called the Griffin and found a small Dominican factory to make cigars for his club.  That factory was Tabacos Dominicanos or Tabadom, Kelner’s creation.   It was Kelner who blended and made the cigars The Griffins and later the Avo for Avo Uvezian.

In October of 1988, Kelner met Dr. Ernst Schneider, who at that time was the owner of Oettinger Davidoff.  Dr. Schneider’s company was distributing The Griffins and Avo worldwide and being impressed with the quality and taste, he was looking to move Davidoff production out of Cuba.  After meeting Kelner and seeing the factory, Davidoff produced its first Dominican cigars at Tabadom in 1990.

Basically, Kelner and the factories he built outside Santiago were synonymous with Davidoff. Over the past few years however, Davidoff has been distancing themselves from Kelner.  According to Davidoff, “In 2015, Henke Kelner, founder and longstanding General Manager of Tabadom Holding Inc., handed over his position as General Manager to Hamlet Espinal, and subsequently, in 2019, stepped down as Vice Chairman of Tabadom Holding Inc.”   Kelner consulted with Davidoff until August 2020 when he retired from Davidoff.  “Henke Kelner is one of the most experienced pioneers and experts in the cigar industry and he has been one of the driving forces behind the success of our company and our brands”, says Beat Hauenstein, CEO of Oettinger Davidoff. “We are very pleased and grateful for the many years we were able to count on Henke’s unmatched knowledge and understanding of innovative tobacco growing and cigar making. We wish him all success and lots of “time beautifully filled” for this new phase in life.”

Today, Kelner continues his work putting Dominican cigars first and fighting for the industry at a governmental and global level as President of ProCigar—the Dominican association of cigar manufacturers.  Kelner also continues to grow tobacco for Davidoff.

Kelner’s son, Klaas Pieter, continued to work for Davidoff Geneva USA in marketing.  That is until this year when he left the company and moved back to the Dominican Republic to be closer to his young family and as he puts it, “Family is always first but my love for cigars is a very close second.”  Klaas Pieter also wanted to be more involved in the farming and cigar manufacturing process.  He went out on his own and  as Davidoff puts it “He continues to support Oettinger Davidoff as an external marketing consultant.”

Now comes word that the company is parting ways with Eladio Diaz, Kelner’s right hand man first as a master roller and then as a master blender and director of quality for the factory.  Eladio was the one of the very first hires Kelner made to initially oversee the production of Avo cigars and then help develop the blends for Davidoff. According to Davidoff, “Eladio Diaz (68), one of Oettinger Davidoff’s most accomplished Master Blenders, has been committed to the company for more than thirty-five years. Eladio Diaz had in the past years progressively handed over his day-to-day tasks and he continues to share his passion and longstanding know-how in his current role by developing the new generations of Oettinger Davidoff Master Blenders while at the same time advising on tobacco procurement and growing as well as cigar production.”

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A 2-time Emmy award winner, Frank Seltzer is a former Correspondent for CNN, Voice of America and a producer for ABC News. He has been regularly covering the cigar industry for over 15 years.


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