Today we look at part one of our Legend’s Interview series with the affable Ernesto Perez Carrillo. For those of you who don’t know, Ernesto has been in the business a long time, especially at the helm of the El Credito factory & La Gloria Cubana operations. Ernesto, the architect of La Gloria Cubana’s famed Series R is doing some very interesting things out of his new company EP Carrillo.
This Interview, per our typical format has been broken down into a multiple part interview to look at the industry, life, and future of the EPC lines and company. We would like to take a moment and especially thank Ernesto for taking the time to talk with us and be so candid.
Cigar Brief (CB): How did you get into the premium tobacco industry?
Ernesto Perez Carrillo (EPC): Well cigars have been in my family’s blood for quite sometime, in fact the family’s history dates back to 1907, that is when my grandfather and his brother started making cigars in the streets of Cuba. My father was next and got into the business when he was 28 and he did that until he left Cuba in 1959. When I came over I was 7 years old. My father had tobacco farms in Cuba. Every Thursday through Sunday we would head down to the Tobacco farm and then when he came to the states he opened up the El Credito Cigar factory in Miami. That is when I became more involved in the cigar business. He passed away in 1980 and I have been in the business full time from then until now.
CB: So where did you start off in the tobacco process?
EPC: Well, my wife was working for my father before me doing the banding. I then started working with him in 1970. I did all types of things in the company at that time. I would deliver tobacco, run errands, and do all sorts of other things. I was also working at night during that time as a musician. I helped out at the factory during the day and was a musician by night. When we had the factory the most workers we had were 10, so it was very manageable. In 1976 when my dad got sick was when I had to start taking over. When he passed away in 1980 I had a better knowledge of how to run the business. At that time we only had 10 people working for us. In 1992 we got rated highly by Cigar Aficionado and then it really started to grow. In 1996 we moved to the Dominican. In 99 I sold the business, then I went to work with General Cigar for 8 years. It was around this time that I decided to open my own factory with my kids.
CB: Where is your new factory located at today?
EPC: Its located in the Dominican Republic. We are currently in the oldest free zone in Santiago. It is a convenient area and everything is close by.
CB: What are some of the biggest changes you have seen in the industry since you got your start?
EPC: The changes have been incredible. Cigar smokers are more demanding and more knowledgeable today. Back in my day, they would buy one brand of cigar and smoke it for life. Now they want to try lots of different cigars, different blends, and the business has expanded to a point where we are at the peek of perfection as an industry.
Another change is that the old Cuban brands don’t have the same appeal to the younger smokers like they did during the earlier times. It is interesting that they have moved away from Cubans to other non-Cuban manufactures like Tatuaje, Illusione, La Flor Dominicana, Pepin, and Padron. The people that have gone away from the traditional Cuban brands developed their own identity and their own brands.
As far as Cuba goes we use Cuban seed tobaccos and a lot of things that we have taken from Cuba. Needless to say, each individual in each country has his or her own identity, which is very important to them. In the old days everybody tried to copy Cuban cigars. Now today, Cuban cigars are Cuban cigars. Each cigar market has its own niche, which I think is very important. I think this will make the business grow more in the long run.
CB: So with the market being the way that it is, how have you changed your business approach with your new company?
EPC: Right now we have been in the business again for two years. Needless to say there has been a large infusion of my kids thoughts into the business and process. The packaging has changed so much since I first started; I think its important that we keep up with that. Not that we are going to change the style of our packaging, but rather bringing out things that are going to enhance our brand. That means for us finding the best in packaging and tobacco. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel per se, but we do want to stay abreast of the current tobacco trends, especially the new ones, we want to be the first to use it if we can. Its important to us. That is why we are doing the “Four Kicks” for Crowned Heads, it allows us to use different types of tobacco. This is what I think the discerning customer wants.
Stay tuned for part II as we talk with Ernesto more about Cuba, his upcoming brands, and what he wants you to walk away with after smoking one of his cigars.