Carlos Fuente Sr., a cigar industry icon who turned Arturo Fuente Cigars into a powerhouse passed away last night, Known as “Don Carlos”, Fuente Sr. is credited for taking many risks to grow Arturo Fuente into one of the largest family-owned cigar companies in the world. He was 81 years old.
In the 1950s Fuente Sr. started working for Arturo Fuente Cigars, the company founded by his father Arturo Fuente. At the time Arturo Fuente Cigars was a small operation. He started in sales, an area he had no experience with. Fuente Sr. started opening more accounts in the State of Florida and selling cigars on credit. He then established distributorships in both Miami and Manhattan. By 1956, Fuente Sr. was viewed as the face of the company. When his father retired, he purchased the company from his family for one dollar.
In the 1960s, he opened a two story factory in Ybor City, Florida. Fuente Sr. worked many long and late hours, and according to biographic information on the company’s web-site, Fuente Sr.’s wife Anna said “If you can’t come home, we’ll go with you”, and she joined Fuente Sr. working in the factory. Over the span of a one year span, Fuente Sr. grew the factory’s staff to one hundred people. By 1965, he moved the company into the Charles the Great building on 22nd Street in Ybor City.
In 1962, Fuente Sr. was visiting Cuba and heard rumors of a trade embargo. He purchased a three year supply of Cuban tobacco at $250.00 per bale and took it back to the U.S.. When the embargo became a reality, Fuente Sr. received many financially lucrative offers for his Cuban tobacco, but turned them down. As he started to use the Cuban tobacco, Fuente Sr. started planning for the future when that tobacco supply would run out. The release for Flor de Orlando would be the first handmade cigar to not include Cuban tobacco.
There were struggles in the 1970s – particularly in the post Cuban tobacco U.S. market. Rising labor costs forced Fuente Sr. to go to Nicaragua and Honduras and open factories there. However that resulted in more struggles. In 1978, during the Nicaraguan revolution, the Fuente factory was burned down in Nicaragua. Not only did he lose his factory, but Fuente Sr was forced. to flee the country. In 1979, another fire struck – this time in Honduras and resulting in another factory loss. As a result, the Ybor City location now shouldered the production load.
In 1980, not able to continue to keep up with labor costs in the U.S., Fuente Sr. and his family went to the Dominican Republic, where they would open up Fuente LTD in Santiago. By this time, Fuente’s son Carlos (Carlito) Fuente, Jr. was now taking a more active role in the company. The company grew into what is today one of the largest family-owned vertically integrated companies in the cigar business.
In 1986, there was the partnership with J.C. Newman Cigar Company that formed. At the time, the Fuente operation were now well entrenched in the Dominican Republic. Under that partnership, the Newmans would take over the Fuentes Tampa-based machine-made operation while the Fuente family would start producing premium hand-made cigars for Stanford Newman’s company. One project Fuente Sr. and Stanford Newman worked on was La Unica – the first premium handmade bundled cigar. At the same time, the Newmans would begin to distribute Arturo Fuente products. This would help enormously grow the footprint of the Fuente brand. It’s a partnership that exists to this day.
Of course there are iconic cigar releases that Fuente Sr. has been a part of. The Flor Fina 8-5-8 was made by Fuente Sr. in tribute to his father Arturo Fuente, who had passed away in 1973.
There was also the Hemingway – which was introduced in the early 1980s. In the post-Cuban cigar market, the figurado and perfecto shaped had nearly vanished. The introduction of the Hemingway not only reinvigorated the perfecto / figurado in the U.S. market, but helped grow the company into a global brand.
Of course he had his hand in the Don Carlos blend. It was introduced in 1976, and now has been a staple brand for four decades.
In the 1990s, came another risk – the challenge of growing a premium wrapper in the Dominican Republic. Fuente Sr. stood by his son as he created an all-Dominican puro with a wrapper grown at Chateau de la Fuente, the family’s tobacco farm. The result was the creation of Fuente Fuente Opus X – and the rest is history.
Back in March to commemorate 25 years of the Fuente and Newman partnership, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn named part of 2nd Avenue in Ybor City Carlos Fuente’s Way.
Fuente was also remembered for his numerous charitable and giveback activities.
References: Some references and biographical information from this story came from Arturofuente.com.