In May 2018, Quesada Cigars announced sweeping changes to its management, sales and operations teams. Fruela Roces was named the company’s new CEO, Carlos Martinez became Quesada Cigars’ new operations manager, Enrique Tavarez was named vice president of sales, Patricia Quesada was announced as the company’s director of global sales, Raquel Quesada would continue in her role as brand manager, and Esther Quesada would continue serving as vice president of the company’s board of directors. The company’s president, Manuel Quesada, would remain with Quesada Cigars to oversee the development of new blends and serve as brand ambassador, attending events at cigar shops in both the United States and Europe.
The restructuring of Quesada Cigars’ management capped the end of a very active period in the company’s history. In the months leading up to the announcement, two longtime Quesada Cigars employees, Hostos Quesada and Terence Reilly, left the company to pursue other opportunities in the premium cigar industry. Quesada Cigars moved its distribution center from Miami to the Dominican Republic in a cost-cutting measure that will also hasten its ability to fulfill customer orders. The company also revamped the packaging for its most well-known brand, Fonseca, in an effort to tie it more closely to the Quesada family name and other lines. Perhaps one of its biggest new endeavors has been growing its first wrapper leaf on a farm in Villa Gonzalez, just outside of Santiago.
While the last 18 months have been a time of big changes for Quesada Cigars, the transformation ought to guarantee the company’s future growth and ongoing presence in the cigar industry for many years to come, the Quesada family promises. After all, these changes aren’t the first time the company has had to deal with change—in April 2002, a plane crash claimed the lives of three members of the company’s management team, forcing other family members to step up their involvement in Quesada Cigars.
Indeed, a company doesn’t get to celebrate 45 years in any industry without undergoing some changes. The secret to making those changes benefit a company and its customers is to be able to manage the changes while keeping the company’s original mission and spirit alive. Good changes enhance a company’s already positive reputation in its chosen industry.
The Quesada family’s involvement in the premium cigar industry all began thanks to a customer who paid his bill using tobacco instead of cash. The family had opened a bakery in Havana, Cuba, after immigrating to the island from Spain. By 1876, the bakery was prospering but not to a level that would comfortably support the growing family. When a customer proposed paying his bill with tobacco, the family recognized a new opportunity for one of its youngest members, Antero Gonzalez, who used the tobacco to start his own leaf brokerage. By the beginning of the 20th century, Antero owned one of the world’s largest tobacco brokerage firms.
The fourth generation of his family employed in tobacco, Gonzalez’s great-grandson, Manuel Quesada, started working in the family business when he was still a teenager. The Cuban revolution and subsequent nationalization of the Cuban cigar and tobacco industries by the new regime led by Fidel Castro forced the Quesada family to leave Cuba and look for opportunities elsewhere. Fortunately for the family, one of Manuel’s great-uncles, Manolo Gonzalez, had started buying and selling tobacco grown in the Dominican Republic, thus giving the family a place to restart their tobacco dealing business in another country.
While the rest of the family was establishing its business roots in the Dominican Republic, Manuel and his brother, Alvaro, went to school in the United States. Studying business administration and marketing at North Carolina State University, Manuel’s education was interrupted by conscription, and he served a tour of duty in Vietnam. Returning from service, Manuel finished his education at Florida State University and then joined the family business in the Dominican Republic.
In June 1974, Manuel, Alvaro and their father, Manuel Sr., opened Manufactura de Tabacos S.A. (MATASA, later to be renamed Quesada Cigars) in Santiago, Dominican Republic. While the family had been involved in tobacco for almost 100 years by then, this was its first effort in making cigars.
Beginning with just a few bales of tobacco, three rollers and about $100 to their name, Manuel, Alvaro and Manuel Sr. started the cigar business by making just three brands: Sosa, Fonseca and Ma’Haya. Through the years, the factory’s production grew to include cigars it made for other companies, such as Nat Sherman International, as well as new brands that sprang up to accommodate the seemingly ever-changing tastes of the worldwide cigar market. Today, the family produces brands bearing the Fonseca and Quesada names and recently introduced Vega Magna; it also sells Casa Magna, a brand made for the company by Plasencia Cigars in Nicaragua.
Manuel points to Fonseca, perhaps the company’s most venerable brand. Fonseca Classic is a mild cigar, but as people’s palates began changing, Quesada Cigars found that they had to add other expressions to the Fonseca line. The Fonseca Vintage added a little more creaminess to the flavor profile. The Fonseca Cubano Limitado added more intensity. The limited-edition 120th Anniversary added a lot more intensity to the line.
“Fonseca as a brand has evolved in upping the intensity of the palate following the trends in the market,” Manuel says. “The same thing has happened for Casa Magna out of Nicaragua and the Quesada and Vega Magna cigars out of the Dominican Republic. We make medium-range cigars with a lot of flavor, and we make cigars with a little higher intensity and a more narrow scope of flavor. We are proud of every cigar we make because we make them consistently and with quality. Our name is on the cigars, and we take great care to ensure that our name is associated with the very best cigars that are available. If you like our cigars, you’ll like them forever. If you don’t like them, you will dislike them forever, but it won’t be because the cigar isn’t made well.”
At this year’s Procigar Festival, Quesada Cigars gave attendees an opportunity to enjoy a preview sampling of one of its latest cigars, the Quesada 1974. Now available in Spain, the Quesada 1974 will make its American debut at the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR) trade show in July. Commemorating the year in which the family launched Quesada Cigars, Quesada 1974 offers connoisseurs a full flavor and medium-body smoking experience that is complemented by a rich, luxurious and pleasant aroma. Made using an Ecuadorean wrapper, Dominican binder, and Dominican and Nicaraguan filler tobaccos, Quesada 1974 will be offered in three sizes—Lancero (7 x 38), Corona (6 x 43) and Robusto (5 x 50)—and it features an MSRP of less than $10 before state and local taxes for all of the cigars in the line. The Quesada 1974 both evokes memories of the family’s humble beginnings in tobacco in Cuba five generations ago and offers a tantalizing glimpse of the company’s plans for the next
45 years and beyond.
“While the past 18 months have seen a lot of changes, we believe that they have made us better than ever,” Raquel concludes. “We’re back, and we’re excited about shaping the next 45 years of Quesada Cigars.”
Despite all the changes through the years, the Quesada family’s ability to make great cigars remains unblemished, proving the old adage true: The more things change, the more they remain the same.
This story first appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.
– By Stephen A. Ross, senior editor of Tobacco Business Magazine.