Cigar Weekly Interview with Jon Huber
Consider stereotypes. At one time, what people ate, wore, how they spoke, and their traditions were markers of belonging to a group. They were considered typical behavior and it was understood that most (if not all) members of a group shared the same broad cultural or physical characteristics. In a nation that has considered itself a ‘melting pot’ until recently – for better or worse – people were identified by these characteristics. In our current day, however, those who make assessments based on stereotypical behavior are now considered to be either bigoted or racist at worst, short-sighted or less than intellectual at best. Thus, rather than relying on older notions of group identity, it is considered to be good form to celebrate one’s ethnicity or culture. At the same time it’s often considered bad form for an outsider to comment upon it in a perceivably negative manner or to revert to previous, stereotypical assumptions.
The world of cigars is subject to its own stereotypes, some viewed through the lens of history. Cigars are considered a luxury item by many in our society. Those of us who enjoy them are perceived to do so in pursuit of the finer things. All of us know what this means. Most would define the finer things as those goods, foods, potables, and other commodities that are very carefully crafted, made with precision by human hands from the choicest of raw materials in the pursuit of excellence. Naturally, such finer things would include the premium, hand-rolled cigar that so many of us enjoy. The raw ingredients, leaves of lovingly-tended tobacco, are chosen for their unique flavors, the characteristics of their burn, not to mention their smoothness of texture and overall appearance. They are chosen with exquisite care by men and women who have practiced their art for years. And then these leaves are formed into cigars by the loving hands of torcedores, the cigars finally being adorned with bands, pacakaged in boxes and sent to anxiously awaiting consumers.
At one time, many finely made products were only available to the very wealthy. The globalization of the economy has changed this to a great extent, but that has not occurred for cigar smokers as it has for foodies, oenophiles and other epicureans. The classic stereotype of the cigar smoker in artistic representation, in song, on the comedic stage is still that of glutton: a portly man with too much money and all the accoutrements that it can buy. Often represented in cartoons wearing an expensive suit straining to contain his girth, cigar smokers are mostly represented as the embodiment of overindulgence and possessing an overbearing demeanor towards lesser mortals.
The cigar itself conforms to certain stereotypical features, which can be seen as either positive or negative, depending upon the representation and its intent. The red band with white and gold writing as well as some form of herald is considered traditional by so many, could also be viewed as stereotypical should one choose to do so. So many famous brands, enjoyed by millions across the globe bear these similar features. Consider the brands: both Cuban and non-Cuban versions of Romeo y Julieta (likely the most recognizable band in the cigar world), Partagás, H. Upmann, Saint Luis Rey, and Punch. The art on the box may differ wildly,but the bands on each brand all share similar characteristics. Even newer brands without Cuban counterparts conform to this convention; A. Fuente, and La Aurora being the easiest to identify.
Lest it be thought that this article is simply about cigar bands, and stereotypes, let us turn our attention to someone who has been working to not only dispel these images, but has achieved a great deal of success in doing so. It has been said that Marvin Shanken and Gordon Mott's publication of cigarAficionado and the promotion of cigar smoking by talk-show host Rush Limbaugh helped usher in the “Cigar Boom” of the 1990s. The “boom’ gave smokers a measure of legitimacy in the eyes of many in the United States. Now that the “Boom’ is nearly ten years behind us and cigars aren’t “trendy’ anymore, smokers find themselves being moved out of doors by smoking bans. Not “trendy’ anymore, the cigar smoker is becoming increasingly marginalized.
Bucking the trends in more ways than one, Nashville, Tennessee’s Cano A. Ozgener has turned what was once a small meerschaum pipe manufacturer into a humidor-restoration and from there to a cigar-making business. His company, CAO Cigars, has found a new, trend-filled niche in what has proved, for many manufacturers, a diminishing market. Cigar Weekly recently sat down with Mr. Jon Huber, Director of Lifestyle Marketing for CAO Cigars, to ask him about the changes his company is bringing to a centuries-old industry.
Cigar Weekly: What first attracted you to CAO? Or what attracted them to you?
Jon Huber: In 1995-6, I was simply trying to get my foot in the door into the cigar industry. To be honest, I’d written letters of interest to just about every cigar company I could find in cigarAficionado magazine—in fact, I kept Gordon Mott’s (cigarAficionado Executive Editor) rejection letter and treasure it to this day. I’d been turned down by everyone, including several local retail tobacconists! So the honest truth is that CAO happened to have the very last ad I found in cigarAficionado from a company that I could actually locate and contact. So I suppose what attracted CAO to me was my passion and interest in working in the cigar business—which bordered upon desperation at the time!
CW: Were they looking for someone with a different perspective and background than themselves?
JH: No, considering that CAO had just moved out of Cano’s basement when I came on board, they were really just looking for a shipping manager! I talked my way into landing that and then parlayed that first into a promotions and public relations position, and later into being part of the ground floor of what is now our marketing department.
CW: Were the ideas for spreading to different demographics your idea or theirs? Whose initiative was it and what type of response did the first foray engender?
JH: I think our ability to connect with a different, albeit less traditional demographic, is really just an organic result of the personalities that comprise CAO. I always say that if you took a blender and poured in some Prada, Apple, and Polo…added a dash of tradition and a half-cup of Rock ‘n Roll, and turned the blender on high – BAM! – you’ve got the CAO brand. At the end of the day, all of that is really just a natural result of the personalities of the people who have been part and parcel to the development of the CAO brand. So the ability to reach a non-traditional cigar demographic is a natural byproduct of that healthy mix of those personalities.
CW: Were you a cigar-smoker prior to joining CAO? If so, did this lead you to seek employment in cigars?
JH: ABSOLUTELY! I didn’t get into this business by answering a want ad. I’d fallen in love with cigars and made a conscious decision that—one way or another – I would make this industry my livelihood. To this day, I tell people that I haven’t had “a job” in 11 years, because I never look at what I do for a living here at CAO as “work,” per se. I’ve never woken up even once since April 15, 1996, and thought to myself, “Oh damn, I have to go to work!” I wake up everyday excited to get to the office and work with some of the most talented, creative, and energetic people in the business! Sometimes I’m still amazed that I get paid to do what I do for a living—I’m very blessed.
CW: Describe the evolution of Jon Huber over these years.
JH: Assuming you’re referring to my professional “evolution,” I really began my career in 1995 as little more than a cigar geek. I used to save whatever spare money I had to buy a few cigars each week and kept a ‘tasting journal,’ with the bands, my ‘reviews,’ the whole works. I studied every book on cigars I could get my hands on. My first day at CAO was April 15, 1996. Three months later, I found myself in Cincinnati at the RTDA (the most important trade show in the premium cigar industry)—I was completely ‘green’ and was somewhat in awe as I was actually rubbing shoulders with some of the cigar giants I’d been reading about. In fact, I vividly recall that the CAO booth was directly across from the cigarAficionado booth. I remember seeing one individual at the CA booth that always had an entourage around him—literally everyone was trying to get ‘face time’ with this person. I found out who that ‘influencer’ was—grabbed a box of CAO Cigars—and walked over to him, introduced myself, and befriended him. That person was George Brightman and he turned out to become one of my true mentors in the cigar industry over the years.
I was also heavily influenced by Cano Ozgener (Founder of CAO) who instilled the “make it happen” mantra in me. Cano believed that whatever you could conceive and believe, you could achieve—you just needed to ‘make it happen.’ So much of what I did in those early years was purely from an instinctual place and came as a result of having no fear of failure; I really just kept my blinders on and ‘went for it!’
Over the years, however, I learned that there was also a level of business savvy that comes into play in one’s success. I’ve been fortunate to take and learn from some of the best minds in the business, including Tim Ozgener (President of CAO), Mike Conder (VP of CAO Marketing), and Micky Pegg (VP of CAO Sales).
Today, I suppose one could say that Jon Huber is a result of having natural marketing instincts, a passion for the cigar industry, and some of the best “OTJ” training this industry could offer!
CW: In an interview with marketing news magazine available through CAO’s website, you stated:
“I think you have to know your customer and also have to have a keen instinct, gut and smell for your business. The minute you lose that connection with your customer and forget to whom it is you’re marketing, you’re lost.”
This is, obviously, a main reason for your ongoing participation on the various cigar forums, yes? Has this participation had an impact on your work? If so, how did that occur? Was it something you sought out for some pleasure more than it being just another aspect of the job?
JH: My original involvement with the online forum community was really accidental. I think it was around 1998, and I had NO idea what a ‘forum’ or ‘chat room’ even was. One of the guys that used to work at CAO turned me on to a popular online cigar forum (that shall remain nameless). Being a natural-born promoter (and not knowing any better at the time), I brazenly started a thread titled, “BEST MADURO CIGAR.” I was trying to create a little ‘buzz’ about the original CAO Aniversario Maduro that we were about to launch. We were all so excited about how amazing that blend was and I was really just saying, “Watch out for the new CAO maduro.”
Long story short, I got my head handed to me with countless anti-CAO posts, nasty emails, etc. I wound up rebounding from that situation by personally mailing out 50 samples to the first 50 forum members that would email me – I let them be the jury, so to speak. The feedback on those samples was very positive, and that particular cigar ironically went on to receive the “Best Maduro Cigar 1998” award from SMOKE Magazine, and was really also the cigar that put CAO on the map some 10 years ago.
Today, my involvement with the online community is less “visible,” but I do occasionally post online whenever a CAO response is required or justified. I regularly monitor about a half-dozen forums and I still believe that some of the information garnered from those forums can provide valuable feedback and a good indication of the ‘temperature’ of a brand.
CW: Has this involvement and interaction with super-loyal cigar smokers brought anything to CAO? Have you been able to contribute to the creation of cigar lines, blends, and sizes? Which ones?
JH: What it’s brought is a core of loyal CAO supporters who have been key in the growth of our brand over the years. Just about everything you see in terms of CAO cigars from 1999 forward has been the result of the creative vision of Tim (Ozgener). He’ll come to the board room with an idea and run it up the flagpole to get everyone’s input, but the core blend, packaging, and direction are really Tim’s forte. Occasionally, one of us will contribute an idea or modification that sticks. For example, the CAO Gold 10th Anniversary idea came from one of our Regional Sales Managers, and the actual name “Mx2” was my creative alternative to just naming the brand CAO “Double Maduro.”
Director of Lifestyle Marketing, Jon Huber, with CAO President Tim Ozgener and Vice President Aylin Ozgener
CW: When was the decision made to begin aggressively marketing CAO and striving to achieve product placement within the Vegas/Los Angeles/New York party circuit?
JH: The whole Vegas/LA/NY/party circuit is again another one of those natural byproducts of what our brand represents. Years ago, we saw the potential in product placement with celebrities and backstage luxury lounges, etc. We got our entrée into that circuit and now – more often than not – companies will solicit us for involvement, rather than the other way around. CAO is really more than just a cigar – sit represents a lifestyle brand, and part of that revolves around enjoying the finest things in life and having a good time. So the “party circuit,” as you put it, is a natural ‘fit’ for the CAO brand.
Anonymous (jcole311): Do you feel that the company’s involvement in celebrity events has helped advertise your product enough to justify the expense?
JH: I do feel that our involvement with celebrity events has helped with our brand exposure and recognition; however, the real ‘trick’ is to structure the deal so that your expense ‘risk’ is manageable.
Roger Farnsworth (ElkTwin): The marketing engine of CAO is amazing. Are you at all concerned that the hip-hop, style-oriented marketing can be alienating to traditional cigar smokers?
JH: Thank you for your kind words. I’m not sure what “hip-hop style-oriented” marketing you’re referring to, though. I think if you study our advertising campaign, our packaging, our website, etc., you’ll see that CAO has a very unique marketing personality – one that has more in common with brands like Prada, Gucci, or Apple than Timberland boots or Vibe magazine.
CW:Has it helped or hurt CAO in that market?
JH: While we do a good deal of demographic research, I can honestly say that we don’t really monitor what genre of music our customer base is listening to. What I can tell you is that our sales have increased steadily every year for the past 10 years. So if the “hip-hop” community is partially responsible for that success, then thank you, God bless, and long live Jay-Z!
CW: I know I got my first CAO cap, a “Boxed-Press Tubo” cap in early 2002. How long was the CAO M.E.R.C.H. and bonus gear idea in the works?
JH: CAO M.E.R.C.H. really began in 1998 with an order of 144 black CAO caps that were embroidered with a very ‘primitive’ image of the CAO Aniversario Maduro band. We didn’t really reinvent the wheel with the whole ‘bands for merchandise’ promotion; that was a concept that had been in play for years in just about every industry (think about your kids and having to send in cereal box tops to get their secret decoder rings and the like!). That original order for 144 caps has really grown over the last 10 years, though. What I can tell you is that while we’ve produced literally hundreds of thousands of caps and t-shirts over the years, we’ve never repeated the same design twice. We’re constantly designing new merchandise and apparel and always try to keep the look ‘fresh’ while maintaining the integrity of the CAO brand. We have a belief that anything we put the CAO brand name on must be of the highest quality – whether that is a cigar, a humidor, or even a cap or a t-shirt. We’ve never looked upon promotional merchandise and apparel as a ‘throw-away’ item—we take as much pride in our CAO M.E.R.C.H. products as we do in our cigars.
CW: Congratulations on your latest promotion. The press release from November of 2007 reads “CAO marketing guru Jon Huber will assume the position of Director of Lifestyle Marketing and will work in close tandem with Creative Media Manager Michael Trebing.” Let’s go through this a bit, shall we?
What, exactly, is “Lifestyle Marketing?
JH: As I mentioned earlier, our goals for CAO go beyond simply being a cigar producer. CAO is a lifestyle brand. I think this becomes clearer if you look outside of our industry. Take Ralph Lauren and Polo, for example. Certainly, when you think of the Polo brand, you probably think of clothing first. But, at the same time, the brand “Polo” evokes a certain imagery or feel—one of classic American design, style, adventure and culture. That’s our vision for CAO: to evoke a specific image for the brand that resonates and connects with the consumer. My role as Director of Lifestyle Marketing is to increase CAO’s brand recognition and further define our image through avenues such as events, advertising, press, new media formats, product placement, M.E.R.C.H., etc.
Anonymous: What does Director of Lifestyle Marketing entail?
JH: It can entail everything from compiling and evaluating online data, to designing CAO apparel, to coordinating a Flavourette event, to creating a new CAO advertisement, to securing a deal to have CAO cigars at the HBO Emmy Awards Luxury Lounge, to assisting in blend evaluations, to traveling to CAO events, to getting the CAO brand involved in non-traditional forms of media such as entertainment or music. It’s never really the same thing two days in a row here – which is one of the things I adore about my position.
CW: And how have you and CAO reached this point?
JH: Our marketing department has really grown to the point where we saw the need for someone to manage the administrative responsibilities in terms of planning, forecasting, projections and the like – and someone to head-up the creative aspect of our marketing force. Our VP of Marketing (Mike Conder) is really the business mind of the team; he has over 20 years of experience in the premium cigar market. I’m more of the ‘creative-arm’ of the team, but I do consult with Mike all the time. It’s pretty much a ‘left-side/right-side’ of the brain operation, but it works well!
CW: I have to ask about Creative Media Manager Michael Trebing. How long have you worked together, and what are your differing roles?
JH: I’ve had the privilege of working with Michael for the past 5+ years. I consider Michael as the “quiet genius” of CAO. He is incredibly talented and has developed a real ‘feel’ for the brand that can only be acquired by years of actually being here and in the day-to-day mix. Michael has been the person that takes a particular idea or image and is technically savvy enough to make it ‘come to life.’ We can go to Michael with an idea or concept, and once he puts his ‘artistic spin’ on it, the idea can morph into something even better than we’d originally hoped for! On one hand, our personalities are very similar on certain levels, and completely different on others. It makes for a great working relationship and I consider him a good friend, as well. We have a blast working together.
CW: Where does this promotion take you? Where does it take CAO? What’s the goal?
JH: I think this swings the door wide open to being able to really focus upon creating all new methods of madness in promoting the CAO brand, becoming more ‘visible’ within the industry, and in turn, growing and defining the CAO brand in terms of image and recognition.
I think the “goal” has always been to be the best—period. Everyone here is very competitive by nature, and I think that competitive nature is what drives us all; nobody wants to rest until we are perceived as the #1 brand in our industry. It’s a lofty ambition, but really – does anybody get out of bed in the morning and say to themselves, “Gosh, I just really wanna be #2?” If so, you should probably just stay in bed!
As with all Cigar Weekly interviews and conversations, our readers and members would like to ask some questions.
Jeff H. (n99): Do you think the future of cigar smoking will be high-end "special occasion" cigars or higher-quality “everyday” smokes? Also, will CAO be putting out any new corona-sized cigars?
JH: The “future of cigar smoking” is YOU, the consumer. By that I mean our industry has entered a very critical point in our history. Some very powerful people in government are doing everything in their power to deny you and me of our right to enjoy a premium cigar, and not just in public restaurants and bars (Google: Calabasas, CA). The point being that if we don’t stand up and make our collective voice be heard when we’re faced with issues such as SCHIP, the whole ‘special occasion vs. everyday smoke’ question will soon be a moot point.
To answer the second part of your question, I am personally a big fan of smaller ring gauge cigars. I favor coronas and have recently reconnected with lanceros; my favorite size would be a 5 â ” x 46. That said, CAO has always reacted to customer demand, and in our particular demographic, what seems to consistently work for our lines are larger ring gauge cigars. We do, however, offer a traditional corona size in a few of our lines (CAO Gold, CAO Maduro, CAO Cameroon, and CAO Gold Maduro).
Rafael Ferrales (Cabaiguan): I'm also curious about thinner gauge cigars. Do you see them making a comeback?
JH: I do see a certain movement towards smaller ring gauge cigars; it seems that recently there have been several manufacturers who have launched a new lancero, for example. Whether that popularity is a niche segment of the consumer market or not remains to be seen. I will say that six or seven years ago we released a limited edition CAO eXtreme Lancero. That cigar smoked beautifully, the presentation was first rate, and it even received a ‘91’ rating from Cigar Insider. But in the end, that release was not considered a success for us…maybe we were just ahead of our time.
Steve Kang (debaire): What is your favorite is of the CAO brands? A non-CAO brand?
JH: Asking me to pick one CAO brand over all others is like asking George Foreman, “Which son is your favorite—George II, George III, George IV. . .?” Kidding aside, that is a difficult question. So much depends upon my mood at the time I’m selecting a cigar to smoke. Recently, I’ve been smoking a lot of CAO Brazilia and CAO Sopranos, but I’ve also been enjoying our CAO Gold Lonsdales a lot, as well. I love our CAO Vision, but it’s rare that we have them available here at the office to smoke.
As far as non-CAO brands go, anyone I work with will tell you that I try to smoke anything I can get my hands on. People send me cigars all the time and I’m more than willing to accept and sample everything. One reason is that I think it’s a mistake to not know what your competition is up to, but the other reason is that I am still a cigar ‘geek’ and I enjoy the product. Lately, I’ve been smoking a lot of Carlos Toraño products (I especially like their Virtuoso) and have discovered the Dunhill Signed Range line (which I think is a ‘hidden jewel!’). I also enjoy some Fuente products (Don Carlos No. 3 is one of my favorite cigar sizes), La Flor Dominicana (especially the Coronado), and I’ve been a big fan of the Tatuaje brand. Tatuaje makes the ‘list’ not only because I think the blend is excellent, but because the brand owner—Pete Johnson—has been a good friend of mine for over 10 years and I really like what he’s done with the brand. What he’s been able to accomplish with that brand in just four short years is pretty amazing.
Roger Farnsworth (ElkTwin): People don't usually think of Nashville as a big cigar town, but that’s where Cano started CAO 30-some-odd years ago. What interesting facts about Nashville’s cigar culture would you like folks to know?
JH: Nashville is a great cigar town and I’d like to think that CAO has had more than a little to do with that! 10 years ago, we couldn’t get arrested in our hometown, but now CAO is definitely on the ‘local map’ and we’ve been fortunate to be embraced by our hometown supporters. It’s not uncommon to visit our offices and find local politicians, professional athletes, businessmen, and various VIPs in our lounge relaxing, conversing, and enjoying a CAO cigar. Despite the no-smoking bill that went into effect October 1 here, there are still a few Nashville ‘spots’ that are great to escape to and enjoy a premium cigar. That said, there is NOTHING like escaping to our CAO Headquarters and smoking a CAO.
Roger Farnsworth: “Cuban-schmooban” was an interesting campaign. When the embargo ends, however, do you think there will be an opportunity to add Cuban tobacco to some of the CAO blends, and what do you think that would allow you to create?
JH: That opportunity will definitely exist and, provided that the tobacco that will become available is of good quality, we would certainly welcome that opportunity. You really have to take a step back and analyze the brands in our CAO portfolio – when you do, you begin to realize that Tim (Ozgener) has been completely genius and truly ahead of the curve in terms of creating blends with tobaccos from countries that were once not even being considered for premium cigars. He has successfully incorporated tobaccos from Brazil, Peru, Colombia, and Italy when everyone else was focusing almost exclusively upon Nicaragua, Honduras and the Dominican Republic. So, having Cuban tobacco available will certainly add another valuable ‘tool’ to the Tim Ozgener ‘tool box,’ and I for one, would be very interested in smoking what he comes up with.
Anonymous: You just took on distribution of Winterman, Toraño, and Dunhill – along with CAO's own products, are you looking to add any other manufacturers’ products or do they plan to stop there?
JH: At this time, there are no plans to acquire any additional brands that I’m aware of.
After you took on Winterman you had a sales force dedicated to just CAO and one just Winterman products; Are you going to continue that or have one sales team represent all the products, which now include Toraño and Dunhill?
JH: To be clear, we never had a CAO sales force and a separate Café Crème (Wintermans) sales force – we’ve always maintained one CAO sales team. That said, I believe that if you look back in time and look for ‘turning points’ in the emergence of CAO as a company, you have to consider the building of our sales force as one of those turning points. We have arguably the finest sales team in the business, comprised of 12 regional sales managers, a national sales manager, a key accounts manager, and a VP of sales. Supported by the best customer relations team in the industry, everyone here is very confident that our sales department is more than capable of handling all of the aforementioned brands successfully.
Any insight on how you will advertise/market Winterman products to US consumers?
JH: Fact: Café Crème is the number one selling small cigar in the world. We believe in the product and we also believe that the biggest challenge is just getting the necessary distribution channels in place and getting the product in the hands of the consumer. There are really three ways to build/grow a brand: Sample, Sample, and Sample!
Don Riffe (Deriffe): With the recent announcement that CAO will take over distributing Toraño and Dunhill, what is CAO going to do to overcome the perception that we here in the Midwest (eastern Missouri, southern Illinois specifically) are sometimes left out in the dark by CAO?
A couple of Brick and Mortar shops I frequent are less than happy with the minimal CAO sales interaction. This new announcement was not met with positive remarks from at least one shop owner in this area. This particular shop has the largest Toraño selection in the metro area by the way. He's also still waiting on CAO merchandise he ordered at RTDA which has been on “back order” for a loooooooong time.
JH: First off, I was unaware that there was a perception that we’ve left out the Midwest region, but thank you for voicing that sentiment and I’m sure that the appropriate parties here at CAO will read this interview. What I can tell you is that all of our regional sales team work and travel tirelessly to service our retail tobacconist accounts. You’re talking about guys who are on the road for 3 out of 4 weeks, driving 10,000+ miles a month, putting in 8-10 hour days making sales calls and servicing accounts, and then finding the energy to do an in-store event for another 4+ hours to close their day.
There are two very ‘bad’ words here at CAO: back and order. Unfortunately, they are also words that have plagued us for the past couple of years. The reality is a simple Economics 101 overview in that the demand for our products has surpassed our supply. Cigars are a handmade product – they are not widgets that come off of a conveyor belt that a factory supervisor can just pull a lever and – voila! – more cigars! There are so many factors that go into the final product, i.e., agriculture, weather, materials, labor, packaging, transport, etc. If just one of those factors goes awry, you’re looking at a delay in delivering the final product. The main impetus behind the recent distribution agreement between CAO and Torano was to allow Torano to focus more on the production end of the product and allow us to service their brand in terms of distribution, sales and marketing. We’re hopeful that this arrangement will alleviate the current backorder situation.
Charles Widry (cbw2647): I always wondered why Toraño never produced a true ‘full flavored’ cigar. It was supposed to be Virtuoso, and then Noventa. . . the cigars are always great quality, but with all the popularity of the Pepin nic (Nicaraguan) puros, why haven’t the Toraños produced some cigars that are more peppery, etc.?
JH: So does “pepper” equate with “full flavor?” There’s nothing wrong with the fact that your palate is drawn to a certain flavor profile (a la Don Pepin’s cigars); however, you can’t really say that another brand is not ‘full flavored’ simply because they don’t have that same flavor profile that you’re drawn to. I personally find the Carlos Torano Virtuoso to be a very flavorful, full-bodied cigar. Further, the Carlos Torano Exodus 1959 was selected as one of the Top 5 Cigars of last year (cigarAficionado), and I don’t think that is a recognition that is given to a cigar void of flavor. It really all boils down to the fact that there are countless high quality cigars out there today – smoke what you enjoy.
Aaron Handelman (H311oLHD): How can I get an internship working for Jon?
JH: Aaron, thank you for your question and your interest in CAO. Your chances would increase exponentially if your name was spelled ‘Erin’ (or ‘Elle’ or ‘Alessandra’ or ‘Adriana’). Seriously though, I would encourage you to send a letter of interest and a resume. That’s really how I got my start, and more recently, we hired an intern by the name of Kellen Gorbett who has been an outstanding addition to Team CAO. Kellen sent a letter of interest that caught Tim’s eye – he came in for an interview – and the rest is ‘intern history.’ Kellen’s got a real passion for the business and is going to go far in this industry if he chooses to stay with it.
Don Riffe: CAO put out some wonderful pipes. Why did they seemingly abandon their roots and devote all efforts to cigars? If they have NOT abandoned pipes, what do they plan to do to dispel the perception that they have?
JH: It’s true that CAO began as a pipe company back in 1968. It’s also true that we no longer distribute pipes or pipe tobaccos. We don’t look at it as ‘abandoning our roots,’ but rather, it has been a necessary business decision for CAO. We kept meerschaum pipes and pipe tobaccos in our portfolio for years, perhaps even longer than most companies in our position would have. But we reached a point where we realized that in order to best service our customers, we needed to focus solely upon delivering the highest quality cigars on as consistent a basis as possible.
Roger Farnsworth: What do you think the ending of the Sopranos really meant?
JH: It meant that David Chase’s mind doesn’t work like 98% of the American public – which is what makes him a creative genius.
Jon Huber with the cast of The Sopranos
Speaking/writing on behalf of Cigar Weekly, our members and our readers, thank you, Jon, for taking the time to give us all a small peek into what you do. We wish you continued success, and hope to continue to interact through our Forums here at CW.
Thomas Bender (TommyBB) is a moderator and contributing editor of Cigar Weekly. He hails from Greater New Orleans where he resides with his family and contributes his share of the air pollution of the area with cigar smoke as well as running his mouth online more than any human being should. He enjoys gathering with friends and family to partake of good cigars, good food and camaraderie when not coaching youth sports, or playing Church music. He's also been known to wear a good hat from time to time.