Last Friday we started our interview series with Benji Menendez, a legendary cigar maker on every level. Benji has spent his whole life in tobacco and his love for it is infectious and apparent. Today we continue our interview with the Legend and learn more about what he loves about the industry and what he hopes to impart to those he mentors in it. So without further adieu part II of our interview with Benji Menendez.
Cigar Brief (CB): You have been with General Cigar for many years now and it is clear that you love working for them. What is one of the main things you love about General Cigar?
Benji Menendez (Benji): General Cigar is very, very aware of the best asset we have, which is people. That’s what’s gonna make the cigar. You might have an idea, yes; but somebody has to carry it out. For instance when we made the Master series I said to my people, “Guys, you have all seen calvary movies and if you remember thos movies you know that the calvary always had a flag. The flag rallied the men, but the troopers were the important part, it was the troopers with sabers, who charged and fought. You guys are the ones with the sabers and charging now. I am that flag. Rally around it. Yes, I’m known in the industry. But guys, you do the work. I can help you, but you do the work.” And this is how I feel, that these people are really great people.
And there are different departments, different areas; and that is what brings together. And we have one common denominator, and it’s these people are all cigar smokers, they have very good palates, and they are very passionate about this business. What else do you want? What else could you ask for? So that’s what makes me really happy now, the job I’m doing. It’s the only thing I can be. I’ll be very eager to come here and to go.
We were talking about a meeting we have to have in Honduras, okay, right after [Laughter] all the things we were having. But this is the way it is; and I love it, and I love it. And I wouldn’t miss that meeting for anything, unless they tell me, “No, no; you stay out.” Otherwise, I’ll be in that meeting. I love this business. It’s been my life.
And I have never, never thought of doing anything else besides tobacco or cigar making. That’s why I imagine, you know, somebody from the military that’s spend 30-40 years and they retire, and they say, “Okay, what dress am I gonna put on tomorrow? Because I’m so accustomed to wearing my uniform every day,” that all of a sudden, hey, you’re not gonna wear your uniform. You’re gonna wear civilian clothes.
And I don’t think – as I say, I thank God I feel good and so on. But I realize old people start having problems and things. And I dread the day I have to retire. That is the truth. I love this too much. And it really scares me to say, “Hey, its time to retire.” And then what am I gonna do? What am I gonna do?
Yeah, I like to take pictures. I love that. I like to play with my computer and pictures. Yeah, but I love to play tennis. I don’t play tennis anymore because my back is complaining sometimes. But I shot – I took part in international trap. I have shot over 700,000 rounds in trap shooting. But I did that as a pleasure.
If you told me, yes, if you have to be eight hours a day playing tennis or shooting; no, no, that’s not fun. However, you tell me, “You got to be in the factory tomorrow morning at 6:00 in the morning. Are you gonna be?”
I have spent week after week – Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday – every day. I come here in the morning, leaving at night. It’s not work. Work is something you do that you don’t like. If you do something that you like, that’s not work.
You like to play golf. Hey, is that work? No. You do it because you enjoy it. Now, if your name is Tiger Woods, you have to train every day– I know what that is like, you know, to be on that high echelon of competition, and the meals you have and the exercise that you have to do; all this, yeah, that’s not my cup of tea. I enjoy it, but not to that extent, with tobacco, with cigars; you name it, I’m here. I love it.
CB: In considering your career and your role as a mentor, if you could distill down what you really hope to leave with those you mentor what would one or two of those thing be?
Benji: Well, I want to give them as much of my experience as possible. As I said, we all make mistakes. So are they mistakes because they want to be mistakes? No. It’s because you have your own thinking. And I will tell you, “Hey, have you seen this other side?”
And this is what I want to leave behind. I want them, until the day I go, and I can no longer come to the factory, to remember the things that I said to them. And as I said, they’re not 100 percent, but they will remember these things, as I remember a lot of things that my grandfather and father taught me.
Tomorrow in our last installment with Benji we will be looking at his memories of growing up in Cuba and what he remembers learning from his father and grandfather.