Cigar Weekly Interview with Ilja van Horssen of CUESTA-REY cigar shop

Cigar Weekly: Please give us a little background, how did you get started in the cigar business? How long have you been in the cigar business?

Ilja van Horssen: My family has been in the cigar business since 1946, right after the war (1940-1945) my grandfather started buying cigars and tobacco for rolling from small farmers and re-selling on the open market here. Soon the amounts where so high for demand that these small farmers couldn't supply enough tobacco so he and also my father went in search for larger suppliers and in answer to that stores began to ask for these products, so the demand increased much more. Around 1990 i came into picture in my fathers company together with my brother a couple of years later where we together began a handmade cigar import company under the name Longfiller-Company as we where only in the rolling tobacco and dutch machine made cigars and also wanted to play a roll in the handmade cigar business. What interesting was that for example until early 1990's no A. Fuente products where imported into the Netherlands so we simply made a few calls to the European master importer called Mearaphell, also known as the Cammeroen leaf family in Belgium and they approved us as there local A. Fuente importer. Around 1996 i got the impression that there where to few good sales points of handmade cigars and started my plans to open a cigar shop where all mayor brands should be sold. In 1999 i opened the Cuesta-Rey cigar shop and since 2 years we are the largest handmade cigar selling shop in the Netherlands and therefore found what i was looking for, maybe time to move on and go for a new challenge in my life.

CW: When did you start your online sales?

IvH: My nephew told me that I should do some advertising on this "web" thing, so he set me up with an ad. This was in August, 1999. The Internet sales started slowly, but picked up over time, About 40% of my business is in sales to the United States.

CW: Everyone concerned with the cigar industry feels that the Cuban Embargo will may be lifted in the next few years, what impact do you see that having on the cigar industry?

IvH: It is also my opinion that the Cuban embargo will be lifted in a couple of years, what the effect will be, i think nobody can say exactly but everybody does has his opinion, like i do. As Europe has always been the mayor player in sales of Cuban cigars i don't think that we will be left out of stock here, what i do think is that the largest amounts of cigars will be exporter to the USA, simply because both countries are so close to each other, but also there is where the problem will start. Cuba ain't big enough to supply the US demand, that is problem #1, the second problem is that because of this high demand the quality will for sure go down as production will be forced to go up and the only effect on that is the quality. The third problem is in the US market itself, already now the fakes are larger in quantities available then the real thing, and now where talking about illegal products, when the embargo is lifted these fakes will become legal products as it is sometimes extremely hard to see what is real and what is not. Therefore the consumer will get disappointed very often and will finally get so sick of this that he will go back to his former supplier somewhere in Europe to buy his Cuban cigars because they now that there they have never been disappointed.

CW: Which cigars do you enjoy smoking?

IvH: My personal taste is extremely wide, i smoke about 2-3 cigars a day and it depends in what mood i am what I'm smoking. I enjoy Cubans as i do Dominican cigars, i do like the smaller cigars like a petit corona and especially Saint Luis Rey (cuba) and for dominicans Opus X and Ashton VSG. Note: For those of you that like the Fuente or Ashton products, you would drool over the selection that Ilja has in his large walk in humidor (rg)

CW: What direction do see retail sales of premium cigars going?

IvH: I can only focus myself of what is going here in the Netherlands and what i see is that there still is a lot to do here, the selection between a top cigar shop and a tobacco sales point is still very big here, what i mean to say is that there are only a handful of real cigar shops that put all there energies into cigars and especially handmade cigars and all the others have a small selection of these handmade cigars but don't have no feeling with it. These last will be gone in a couple of years from now, they will have to make a choice, or become fanatic with cigars or stop with it, a choice in between won't be possible to maintain there business. This choice is good for the customers as a retailer must now what he/she is talking about and also offer a wide selection for his customers.

CW: Well, I would like to thank Ilja for his time and hospitality (and for a lighter that works!), I would definitely recommend that if you visit the Netherlands, to take a trip to The Hague and visit the CUESTA-REY cigar shop.

NiceAsh enjoying a '98 SLR petit corona with Ilja