Cano Aret Ozgener, the man best known to the cigar industry as the founder of CAO Cigars, but also a man who was an engineer, businessman, artist, and philanthropist, has passed away. He died peacefully on June 9 at home surrounded by his family after a long battle with cancer.
Ozgener was an Armenian-Turk born in Istanbul Turkey in 1937. He went to school in Turkey for Engineering and became fluent in three additional languages (French, English, and German) on top of knowing Turkish and Armenian. He also won the Ping-Pong championship of Turkey. He would eventually move to New York in 1962 and attended Columbia University (where he met his wife Esen) and eventually earned a Master of Science (1962) and a professional degree in Mechanical Engineering (1964). Following graduation, he moved to North Carolina and went to work for DuPont in research and development. In 1967, he would transfer to Nashville, Tennessee – the city he was associated with for most of his career.
Ozgener had a passion for meerschaum pipes. Being an engineer by trade, he started modifying the stems of pipes to improve performance. This led him into the pipe business where he also focused on humidors. He attempted a cigar brand called Casa de Manuel in 1980, but that did not prove to be successful, and he re-focused his attention back to pipes. In 1994 as the cigar boom formed, Ozgener formed CAO Cigars, bringing in his son Murat (Tim) and daughter Aylin. Based out of Nashville, they made the company into a power in the cigar industry while bringing an innovative spin to cigar making and branding.
The original CAO was a maduro made by the Plasencia family in Honduras. After some production snafus, Ozgener hooked up with Douglas Pueringer of Tabacalera Tambor in Costa Rica. This was the factory best known for making Bahia cigars. It was with Pueringer that he created a new maduro, the iconic red-banded CAO Maduro which helped put the company on the map. Some consider that cigar to be a game-changer for many maduro blends that followed. After splitting from Pueringer in 1999, Ozgener would start to work with the likes of Nick Perdomo and the Toraño family. Eventually the Ozgeners would acquire their own factory space at the Toraño facilities in Honduras and Nicaragua.
From 1999 to 2007, CAO saw its portfolio expand. It was in 2007 that the family sold CAO Cigars to Scandinavian Tobacco Group (STG). When STG merged with Swedish Match, CAO was integrated into the General Cigar portfolio and by 2010 the Ozgener family exited the cigar business.
In 2006, Ozgener had a near-death experience while undergoing a stem-cell transplant for lymphoma. At the time an Irish lullaby sung by a nurse and painting of the colors of natures inspired him in the area of arts. This led to the formation of OZ Arts Nashville, a non-profit contemporary performing and visual arts center that he founded with his son Tim.
Ozgener was an active part of the Nashville community, He served on the boards of Nashville Symphony Orchestra, Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center, and Watkins College of Art.
In lieu of flowers, Cano and his family have requested donations may be made to OZ Arts Nashville at ozartsnashville.org.
A celebration of life will be held at OZ Arts Nashville on Sunday, June 24, at 3:14 PM. OZ Arts is located at 6172 Cockrill Bend Circle.
He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Esen; children Murat (Tim) Ozgener and Aylin Ozgener; sister Esperanz Minassian; grandchildren Aloe Franke, Sean Franke, Cano Evan Ozgener, and Aidan Ozgener; daughter-in-law Arnita Ozgener; and son-in-law Scott Hethcox.
Photo Credit: OZ Arts Nashville