Karen Berger: Dream Chaser

    Karen Berger has faced her share of obstacles and heartache, but against all odds she has built a tobacco empire with patience and love at its foundation.

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    Two aspects of the business Berger especially loves are the collaborations and close relationships she has forged with other brand owners and cigar manufacturers. She speaks fondly of the Perdomo and Fuente families and also counts Gaby Kafie among her biggest supporters. Jonathan Drew, founder of Drew Estate, is another friend within the industry that she speaks highly of. Berger looks toward other women in the industry for inspiration, naming both Liana Fuente and Cynthia Fuente as examples she tries to follow and aspire to. Janine Perdomo, last year’s Tobacco Businesswoman of the Year, is someone that Berger describes as “amazing” and someone she respects due to her dedication and support of her own husband’s brand and business.

    Berger is a supporter of women and the big role they play in the cigar industry. “I am really glad for all the support that I am receiving from many women cigar smokers. I also like to support different women who are manufacturers and have their own brands. In cigar factories, I can say between 70-75 percent of people working there are women. So women have a lot of power in the cigar industry,” she explains. “Right now, we are breaking stereotypes. Women are more involved as manufacturers and as smokers than ever before. We are more educated in everything about the cigar industry. So I think that we are making great progress.”

    Berger is a big advocate for women in the cigar industry educating themselves about tobacco, cigars and the business associated with tobacco, seeing this as the only way men will be able to realize the full potential women have in the industry.

    “I say that we [women] need to prove to ourselves that we can be strong and [that we] have more confidence in ourselves and can do it all,” she says. “To every woman that wants to be part of this industry, it’s not easy because we have, as I said before, to work against the stigma and stereotype that we don’t know much about cigars or that we don’t have the knowledge about cigars or tobacco.”

    One thing Berger recommends every cigar smoker learn is how to respect the product that they are smoking. There are different blends for different tastes and palates. Berger has noted that as a retailer and brand owner, she’s encountered many cigar smokers that have had a cigar that they don’t like for a number of different reasons. Rather than dismiss that particular cigar as being bad, Berger wishes more people would respect the process and time that it took to bring that cigar to the market and that they would understand that from seed to shelf, making cigars requires a lot of work and sacrifice. Respecting the seed and the process behind cigarmaking is one thing every cigar smoker could benefit from learning.

    With Love
    No matter what hurdles and obstacles she faces, Karen Berger seems to come out on top. When faced with the COVID-19 pandemic that virtually shut the world down for a year, Berger saw an opportunity to strengthen her business by launching a new website and e-commerce operation that allowed her retail business to withstand the negative fallout from the virus. She also used 2020 as time to spend with her family as she awaited the reopening of the world. Today, things are different, business has picked back up, and she’s seeing an increase in sales within both her retail and wholesale business. Her business has also opened more accounts, proving her long-held theory that patience is often the best remedy for any problem.

    Another thing Berger has learned is that if you have a dream, you have to chase after it while also knowing nothing will come easily. She’s learned just how strong she is and that she can accomplish anything she truly wants to do—in time. She’s well aware that mistakes may be made, but with every mistake comes a valuable lesson.

    “I am working for my dream,” she proclaims, boldly and with confidence. “I know that I have the power, and I know I have knowledge. I also know that I require more knowledge. All the support and love that people give to me and every comment that I receive gives me more strength to keep doing what I am doing.”

    Owning a tobacco business comes with its own risks and challenges, something Berger is aware of but isn’t at all daunted by. She’s hard at work on new projects that she hopes to be able to unveil soon and new blends for both Don Kiki and K by Karen Berger. What’s most important to her for retailers, manufacturers and consumers to know is that everything she does is done with passion and patience. Most important though, is to know that whatever Karen Berger does and puts out into the world, it’s done with a lot of love.

    This story first appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.

    Story by Antoine Reid, senior editor and digital director for Tobacco Business Magazine. You can follow him on Instagram @editor.reid.