“The best reward I can have is to see the satisfied smile of a cigar smoker.“ Carlos Fuente Jr. or Carlito, as he is known to most people, takes a sip of coffee. “Then each time I think the effort has been worth while. And still I set myself the same new challenge every day – tomorrow I want to make a cigar that is even better than those I made today.
I have been invited to breakfast coffee with his father Carlos Sr. and his sister Cynthia in the Casa Fuente, the first cigar boutique and lounge that is dedicated entirely to the Tabacalera Fuente products. The awe-inspiring shop, with its huge selection of Fuente brands, was opened one year ago in Las Vegas with mega-stars with Cuban roots such as Andy Garcia and Arturo Sandoval. A relaxed mood prevails this morning. “Dad, when did you get to bed?“ asks Carlito. “Not before three,“ laughs Carlos. “A short night. And what about you?“
At the moment the annual RTDA show is taking place, the largest tobacco trade fair in the world- and there’s no rest for the Fuente team. In the Casa, things are getting livelier and livelier by the minute. Fuente brand manager Karl Herzog is replying to the emails from the Fuente customers with his BlackBerry. Steve Spatafore is setting up his camera for the photo shoot. Michael Frey, who co-owns the Casa Fuente with Robert Levin, the proprietor of the Ashton trademark, is preparing his store for the daily rush:
“Case Fuente is a great showcase for the brand and the Fuente family. I’m very proud to have been able to participate in this project.“
NEVER RUSH THE HANDS OF TIME
The Fuente operate within an almost unique network of friends and partners. Customers and suppliers are carefully selected, but once on board, they can be absolutely certain of the company’s loyalty. A handshake is the word of a gentleman. As Karl Herzog explains, “We were the first cigar business to announce publicly that we could not supply any new customers. Why? Because we cannot increase production at the same speed as demand is rising. And we do not want to, nor shall we, put existing customers at a disadvantage.“
Despite the discrepancy between supply and demand, Carlos Senior is thinking about paying more attention to Europe in the future. “We don’t want to grow by more than two or three percent a year since that is the only way we can still guarantee the quality. But I’ll see what we can do about Europe.“ Fuente’s philosophy has always stood the test of time: Never rush the hands of time. With its three cigar factories and a box production plant, Fuente employs around 2,000 people. “Up to 5,000 at peak times“, says Carlos Sr., emphasising the company’s role as a provider of employment. Annual production amounts to around 35 million premium cigars, of which 20 million are Fuente brands. Cigars are also produced for other labels. all best-sellers in the top segment.
At the end of the 1980s, the Fuente and Newman families joined together to create a brilliant partnership. The Fuente produce the cigars for the brands owned by J.C. Newman: Diamond Crown, Maximus, Cuesta Rey and La Unica. The Fuente also formed a joint venture with the Newman family, Fuente & Newman Premium Cigars Limited, to distribute the Fuente cigars in the U.S. However, their partnership goes beyond commercial purposes.
In 2001, the Fuente and Newman families established the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation in order to help the poor children in Dominican Republic. The Cigar Family Charity Foundation has completed the construction of a community centre-cum-school and medical facilities improving the infrastructure in the town of Caribe.
It is here in the heart of the Dominican Republic that can be found the Chateau de la Fuente, probably the most famous tobacco farm in the world. “I want to share our success with the people. They have always supported us, and now it’s our turn to help them, and above all the children“, is how Carlito justifies his charitable activities.
LOTS OF OFFERS, BUT NO INTEREST
“Our staff is not just loyal, they are extremely proud to be part of our business“, says Karl Herzog about the interaction within the company. In return, Fuentes provides its team with the best possible training, every conceivable opportunity for promotion and, in addition to the (above-average) wages, free medical care and transport to work.
Carlos Sr.: “We owe so much to our employees. Incidentally, there are still five people in the business who were with us when we started in 1980. Just how valuable Tabacalera Fuente is can be seen from the fact that Carlos and Carlito Fuente regularly receive offers to purchase their life’s work. Understandably, they don’t want to reveal the names of the potential buyers. There have been quite a few indeed. And the offers keep coming in. But we won’t have anything to do with them“, they add, dismissing the offers.
VIRTUES ARE THE BASIS FOR SUCCESS
Words like tradition, honesty, trust and loyalty are not just empty words in the Fuente family. One might almost think that these are values that to them count for more than success, growth and popularity. Of course, the one does not preclude the other, as became apparent in the conversation with Carlos Sr.: “Of course we work so that ultimately we can enjoy the fruits of our labour. But how can you be successful in the long term if you don’t make your way honestly?” Carlos Jr. steps in, looks at me and pauses for a moment: “It was never my aim to become the largest cigar producer. But it is my dream to be the best!“ The harmony between father and son is striking. The same is true of Cynthia and her husband Wayne Suarez. The Fuentes are the very epitome of a team, the interaction functioning as smoothly as clockwork.
“A TRIBUTE TO MY HERO CARLOS ARTURO FUENTE …“
What does one Fuente give another as a celebration gift? He creates a cigar! To celebrate the 30th anniversary of his father’s Don Carlos line, Carlito has created a new cigar. “It will have a wrapper like the OpusX but with a bit more kick in the taste than the well-known Don Carlos series – a mighty cigar whose purpose is to do full credit to my Dad. My father means everything to me. He is my best friend, my mentor and at the same time he’s the support for the whole family… the heart and soul of Tabacalera Fuente.“
Carlito gets carried away and tries to give words to his enthusiasm. But the banderole manages to say everything in a single sentence: “A tribute to my hero Carlos Arturo Fuente ..“
On October 7, 2006, the Don Carlos Edición de Aniversario will be presented to the public for the first time by Keith Park and Hollywood star Joe Mantegna in Los Angeles. Keith Park is not only the founder of Prometheus International, Inc, but also, with the Fuente family, co-owns the trademark for the “God of Fire“ cigars, which are the rare vintage cigars created by Carlos Fuente, Sr. and Carlito Fuente.
FROM HARDSHIP TO DREAM
The story of the Fuente family is like a roller-coaster ride. Arturo, Carlos and Carlito Fuente have on many occasion seen their work reduced to ashes and rubble. Following disasters in the USA, Nicaragua and Honduras, their unshakeable will to survive finally let them to the Dominican Republic. But even there they have not been spared the catastrophic reversals caused by fires or by hurricanes. Disaster and triumphant success have never been such close neighbours as in this small family circle.
The Fuente have made a legend out of their name, a synonym for passion for tobacco.