Carlos “Carlito” Fuente, Jr. is president of Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia, the largest family-owned premium cigar company in the world. Headquartered in Santiago, Dominican Republic, they employ 4,000 people and produce 30 million cigars a year.
The company was founded in the United States in 1912 by Arturo Fuente, who came from Cuba and was eventually joined in the business by his son, Carlos Fuente, Sr., and then his grandson, Carlos Jr. (Carlito) and granddaughter Cynthia. At various times since the Cuban embargo, the Fuentes had factories in Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, and Honduras, often losing everything due to civil unrest. Finally, in 1980, they settled in the Dominican Republic.
Since then, Carlito Fuente has become the persona of the Fuente brand and with his late father, brought back many figurado shapes and introduced innovative blends. Entire rooms in their factories are dedicated to their most famous cigars, including the Don Carlos, Hemingway, and OpusX – a cigar that revolutionized the industry by becoming the first successful all-Dominican puro.
What shifts have you seen in the premium cigar world?
It used to be cigars were just something you smoked because you liked cigars. Now it is
about possession and appearance as well as for special moments. They’ve become symbols of luxury.
What was the premium cigar industry like in 1988?
Thirty years ago, the big companies had people go into malls and ask shoppers, “What do you like or dislike about a cigar?” And they’d answer, “I don’t like the smell” or “I want it to taste sweet.” So the companies started this whole campaign about mild, sweet, light cigars. That all changed in 1992 in the Dominican Republic when we began planting Havana seed wrapper along with Dominican-grown filler and binders, which became the Fuente Fuente OpusX, a really full-bodied cigar. That cigar changed the industry because then everybody started planting tobaccos to make stronger-tasting, fuller-flavored cigars.
What about the cigars themselves?
Thirty years ago, cigars were almost all straight-shaped parejos. Now you have figurados [shaped cigars], you have multicolored wrappers, cigars with ribbons, and packed in silk-screened boxes.
In addition to your father and your grandfather, who emigrated from Cuba to the U.S. and then founded your company in 1912, who are some of the other cigar luminaries you admire?
I have the highest respect for the Padrón family, who came to the U.S. after the nationalization of Cuban industries, and the Auroras, who pioneered cigar making in the Dominican Republic. But it’s not just the people who make cigars; it’s the people who grow the tobacco. I will never forget the Perez family or the Olivas. Plus the Plasencias, who grow some of the finest tobacco and are now making their own cigars. These tobacco growers, in many cases, literally sacrificed their lives to give us the best tobaccos so we could make the best cigars. Without them, none of this would be possible.