Carlito Fuente: the king of cigars

The President of the cigar company started by his grandfather, Arturo Fuente, tells EDGAR why he keeps the old traditions alive.

Robert Chilton May 12, 2016

It seems like emotion pays a big part in your business – is that fair?

When I was a little boy my father told me you run a cigar company with the heart, never with pencil and paper. He said you have to be original and look at your cigars every day to make them better. I'm still the crazy creative artist; I never wear a suit.

Does emotion influence your decisions?

Yes, for instance, we produce one cigar with a cigar band that’s torn to mark the first time I got my heart broken when I was 14. At high school she left me for the football star.

Were you surrounded by cigars from a young age?

I was born in a little wooden house in Florida that had a small cigar factory out the back. I was raised on the laps of cigar makers, hearing their stories. Cigars were my world. 

I worked in my father’s factory where I used to shine the cigar makers’ shoes and they’d give me a nickel. But my dad always discouraged me from joining the family business because it took him away from his family.

When I was growing up I never saw my father, he worked day and night. Working in cigars is a commitment and a passion – you become obsessed.

How important is your family’s Cuban roots to you?

I’m proud of my heritage. Tobacco is the soul that runs through my body. But I have used the tradition to create something new. For example, I started looking at old cigar bands, which were made in Havana and embossed, they were almost like braille. I wanted to recreate the past so we brought them back.

What’s it like during the tobacco harvest?

Painful struggles and sleepless nights – it's like delivering a baby! I’ve had crops taken away overnight with flooding or hurricanes.

How do you react to moments like that?

You cry or have a heart attack. I’ve had lots of ups and downs, but that's life.

How will the recent lifting of the US embargo on Cuba affect your business?

I see it as an opportunity and I think it will create another boom. When the embargo with the US came [in the early 1960s], companies panicked and sold up. Tampa became a little corner of Cuba as the tobacco ferries arrived in Tampa Bay. At one time that area made more cigars than Cuba: 200 factories making 500 million cigars per year. I see the change today in the same way. My biggest wish is that the new market will give people in Cuba the chance to live better lives.

Is your father Carlos still involved in the business?

Yes, he’s 80 and he’s the head coach, the boss, the chairman, the teacher. He's calling employees at 6am to find out what's going on. My father is the hardest working man in the cigar business – he's my hero.

What do you love about smoking a cigar?

They bring me close to people. Cigars are about people and relationships. There's something magical about them; they're social, almost spiritual. The smoke goes to heaven and embraces my grandfather.

Fuenta Cigars are available in Abu Dhabi and Dubai Duty Free.