Industry legend Carlos Fuente sr. Every industry has legends. Some unsung heroes, some famous names. A few names that will remain in everybody’s memories forever, most will fade away over time. Some that have left us, some still alive. These legends all played their part to make the cigar industry what it is today. And they deserve to be remembered, to be recognized for their achievements. That’s why Ministry of Cigars is creating a series of articles about those legendary figures in the cigar industry.
Carlos Fuente Sr. is more than an industry legend. He is an icon, even five years after his death his influence in the industry is massive. Just the news that the Padron family is creating a cigar to honor Carlos Fuente Sr, with Arturo Fuente creating a cigar to honor José Orlando Padron broke the internet. And that is a testament to his legacy. His son, also an industry legend, Carlos ‘Carlito’ Fuente Jr. often wonders “what would my father do” when he’s faced with a question. The whole Fuente family is still working hard and doing everything to make their father and grandfather proud.
The early years
Even though Carlos Fuente Sr was born into tobacco, he also wasn’t born into tobacco. In 1912, Arturo Fuente, Carlos’s father, started the Arturo Fuente brand in Tampa, Florida. That’s where the company still resides. But a catastrophic fire in 1924 meant the end of the business for a long time. So when Carlos Fuente Sr was born in 1935, there was no Arturo Fuente brand. His father was an employee for other cigar manufacturers during that time.
Yet the business rebooted in 1946. That was also the year where young Carlos was diagnosed with polio. Doctors said he would never be able to walk again. But the persistence and fight that young Carlos had amazed everyone. For three long years, he was fighting the illness to make a complete recovery. That fight is a family treat and is the reason why Arturo Fuente y Cia is the company it is today. The family overcomes all tragedies that they face and manage to come out stronger.
Arturo Fuente y Cia
At the young age of only 23, Carlos purchased the business from his father. It was just a local brand, cigars were made on the porch of the family house. Arturo Fuente cigars were only known in Tampa and surrounding towns. The business was strictly done on a cash basis. But Carlos had ambition. He left the ‘cash only’ mentality behind. He sold cigars all over Florida and in the Latin communities in New York. The business grew, it was finally bringing in enough money to support the family.
But it was hard work. Carlos Fuente Sr often slept on bales of tobacco in the factory instead of coming home to his wife and children, even though he loved them very much. Providing for them meant the world to him, and he sacrificed a lot for that. And the next bump in the road hit Fuente, and many others, in 1962 when President John F Kennedy officially sealed an embargo on Cuba. It meant that Fuente had to find other tobacco to make his cigars. He tried tobacco from everywhere, from the United States, Puerto Rico, Colombia but none was up to his standards. The Cameroon wrapper was though, and that might have saved the family business.
By late 1960s, labor cost in America was getting out of hand. So Carlos Sr. made the call to move the company. Not to the Dominican Republic but to Nicaragua. And again disaster hit the Fuentes. After just a few years and at the height of the Nicaraguan revolution the Fuente factory burned down. It was 1924 all over. But just how Carlos overcame polio and the Cuban embargo, it only made him more determined. With his son, Carlito, who was also a part of the family business by now, they packed all they had and moved to Santiago, Dominican Republic. In 1980 Tabacalera A. Fuente opened its doors. And nowadays Chateau de La Fuente is an iconic landmark.
From that factory in Santiago, Carlos Fuente Sr set an aim to conquer the world. With an extreme focus on quality. Not just perfect construction, but also perfect fermentation and aging. And Arturo Fuente y Cia started to venture into tobacco growing. That all to have more control over quality. Quality is still the main goal of the family, even after Carlos Fuente passed away. And if quality and meticulous attention to detail is your benchmark to call a company boutique (it is ours) then Arturo Fuente is the biggest boutique cigar manufacturer in the world. All because of the bar that Carlos Fuente Sr set. With his attention to detail and quality, he raised the bar for the whole industry. That alone makes him an industry legend by itself.
The return of the perfecto
In the 1940s and 1950s, perfectos were a staple. It was the best-selling vitola. Arturo, Carlos, and the employees of Arturo Fuente made many of them on the family’s porch. But by the 1980s perfectos were nowhere to be found. Reminiscing the good old days, Don Carlos made a decision. He would bring back the perfecto. But not only the vitola was an inspiration, Cuba and the author Ernest Hemingway were too. So a whole new line came alive, the Fuente Hemingway line. With different sizes, yet all perfectos. And each size would have a name referring to Hemingway and literature. From ‘short story’ to ‘signature’, and a special ‘between the lines’. This line was the return of the perfecto. The vitola will never be as popular as in the olden days but thanks to Carlos Fuente, it did not fade away into memory.
As we said before, the memory and spirit of Don Carlos Fuente Sr live on. The story of Arturo Fuente doesn’t end with his passing away. By that time, his son Carlito was already a legend of his own. But that is for another episode of our series of legends. And with the fourth generation now in the family business, we bet that the Fuente story will continue for generations to come. With going back to Nicaragua as the next chapter. Also, read our article on the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation from Fuente and J.C. Newman.
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