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Written by Patrick Lauer

Tuesday, 07 February 2006

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If you haven't heard of J.C. Newman, then you may be a cigar "newbie". Cigar Review's Patrick Lauer reports on the oldest family owned cigar company in America. The J.C. Newman Cigar Company has been manufacturing and distributing quality, premium cigars and cigar accessories for over 110 years.

J.C. Newman Cigar Company

In 1895 Julius (J.C.) created a cigar table from some old boards, borrowed $50 for tobacco and got his first order for 500 cigars from the family grocer. The business that started that day in the barn behind the family home was the J.C. Newman Cigar Company.

The company flourished in Cleveland for 59 years. However, J.C. decided to relocate the company to Tampa, Florida in 1954. Known as the "Cigar City," Tampa was ideal for cigar manufacturing because of its warm, humid climate and its close location to Cuba. At that time, the ships transporting Cuban tobacco traveled from Havana to the Port of Tampa.

J.C. Newman Cigar Company

Continuing the family tradition, Standford's sons Eric and Bobby Newman entered the family business in the mid 1970's. As 3rd generation Newmans in the cigar industry, Eric learned the manufacturing side of the company while Robert focused on the Sales end of the business. This next generation worked along side other family members in continuing to develop the J.C. Newman Cigar Company.

During the 1970's, the Newmans achieved great success with the Cuesta-Rey #95 cigar. It became the largest selling premium cigar in the United States.

Cigar Review: Could you tell us about the history of the Newman Family in relation to the cigar business?

Eric Newman: My grandfather, J.C.Newman emigrated to the New Country from his native Austria-Hungary in 1888 with his 5 brothers, a sister and his parents. The family settled in Cleveland, Ohio, where a large number of Hungarians had settled before them. J.C. didn’t want to become a tailor like his brothers so his mother paid a cigar maker $3.00 a month to teach her son J.C. how to make cigars. J.C. became an excellent hand cigar maker and in 1895 went into business for himself, making and selling his first 500 cigars for the family grocer.

In 1895, there were 300 cigar manufacturers in Cleveland but by 1905 the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. was the largest. 

Cuesta Rey CigarsThrough World War I, the Great Depression, and World Way II the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. persevered. In 1953, J.C. Newman decided that in order to remain competitive in the cigar industry he would need to focus on the premium segment of the business. So at the age of 78, J.C. moved his company to Tampa, Florida, the Fine Cigar Capital of the World, where the company has operated ever since.

In 1953 there were 10 other premium cigar manufacturers – all family-owned businesses. But one by one they went out of business or sold out to the larger cigar companies – today the J.C.Newman Cigar Company is the sole survivor of those “1953 10” 

In fact when J.C. started in 1895, he was just one of 42,000 federally licensed cigar manufacturers. Today the J.C. Newman Cigar Company is the only one of those 42,000 cigar manufacturers that is still owned and operated by the founding family.

Certainly the most significant event that influenced our presence in the cigar industry in recent years has got to be our partnership with Carlos Fuente in the Dominican Rebublic. The Fuentes do what they do best - make our premium Cuesta-Rey, La Unica, Diamond Crown, and MAXIMUS cigars along with their Fuente and Montesino cigars in their Dominican factories. By the same token we do what we do best – sell and distribute their brands along side our brands.

CR: How important are cigars to the Newman Family?

Newman: Since Grampa J.C.hand-rolled his first cigars for the family grocer in 1895, cigars have impacted every facet of the Newman family for over 110 years for 4 generations. Grampa J.C. lived the American dream and headed his company for 63 years until his death in 1958.

His son Stanford is incredibly starting his 72nd year with the company. Dad’s first job was selling cigars in downtown Cleveland in 1934. My brother Bobby and I sold cigars during the summers when we were in college and my son Drew, the fourth generation of cigar Newmans, in a second year law student but has been running our CigarFamily.com web site which he founded when he was just 14. You might say that the Newman family has had cigars in our blood for over a century.

CR: How and when did you get involved in the family business?

Newman: As discussed above I started selling cigars in the late 1960’s when I was in college. I started full time in 1972 where my initial cigar education was working in the factory. I spent an entire year working (6 – 8 weeks) in every department. My favorite manufacturing experience was cigar making where I worked myself up to making 3,800 cigars a day - after just 6 weeks.

CR: Have the increased amount of hurricanes in the past year and a half hurt the your tobacco crops?

Newman: We don’t own tobacco crops but buy most of our tobacco from the Oliva family.

CR: Is business good for the Newman brand right now?

Newman: Sales of our Cuesta-Rey, Diamond Crown and MAXIMUS cigars have been excellent. Last year was our best year since the peak of the cigar boom.

CR: What is your perspective on the current status of the Cigar Industry?

Eric Newman & Patrick Lauer
Eric Newman & Patrick Lauer

Newman: Incredibly the state of the American cigar business is very good. Unit sales continue to increase every year – an amazing phenomenon considering the fact that it is becoming more difficult to smoke cigars due to the great increase the number of smoke restriction laws enacted by many states.

CR: Do you think the TV advertisements from Truth.com have hurt or actually helped the tobacco industry?

Newman: I can’t speak for the entire tobacco industry but I don’t think they have had much impact either way on the cigar industry.

CR: The recent talk is that we are heading into a new cigar boom, do you think we are headed that way?

Newman: I wouldn’t call this recent increase in activity another cigar boom. The cigar boom of the 1990’s, where demand for cigars increase 40% a year and over 100 factories opened up overnight in Nicaragua, Dominican Republic and Honduras in the Caribbean Cigar Gold Rush, was absolutely unreal – a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. That being said I would say that the current demand for cigars remains strong.

CR: Do some lines sell more than others for Newman? If so which?

Newman: Handmade by our Dominican partners, Tobacalera A. Fuente, whom we believe are the finest cigar manufactures in the world, Cuesta-Rey is our #1 selling premium cigar. Diamond Crown and MAXIMUS all sell very well in the super premium category.

CR: After smoking a couple Diamond Crowns I can say this is no basic premium cigar, I agree it is a Super Premium. What does it take to produce such an excellent cigar?Diamond Crown Cigars

Newman: From the unique Robusto concept...to the special "double fermented" exclusive CFW® wrappers...to the rich tobacco blend Carlos Fuente, Jr. and my father developed...to the unique expert craftsmanship process...to the spectacular packaging and presentation, there has never been a cigar like DIAMOND CROWN - ever!

What truly makes the taste of DIAMOND CROWN cigars so special is its CFW® (Connecticut Fermented) Wrapper. Unlike most other quality tobacco wrappers that are normally hung in bales, dried and bulked for a single fermentation prior to being packed in bales and eventually rolled onto a cigar, DIAMOND CROWN CFW® wrapper goes through a second fermentation. Specially fermented five year old wrapper leaves are unpacked from the bale and then conditioned and graded. The silkiest, smoothest leaves are then selected and placed in bulks for a second fermentation. It is this "second curing" that evens and develops the rosado color of the tobacco wrapper and eliminates any potential rawness, that accounts for much of DIAMOND CROWN'S sweet, smooth rich flavor.

CR: Are there going to be any new cigars added to your lineup? If so could you tell us about the future plans of JC Newman Tobacco?

Newman: We will be expanding our Cuesta-Rey Stanford’s Cameroon Reserve which was so popular last year. Dad was the first American premium cigar manufacturer to use Cameroon wrapper so we asked Carlos Fuente to make a limited number of our popular Cuesta-Rey Pyramid #9 with his top Cameroon wrapper. The 1,500 boxes we made available for RTDA last year sold out in 10 days. Then we asked Carlos to make another 80 boxes and they sold out in 20 hours.

CR: Do you have a favorite smoke from the JC Newman Cigar lineup?

Newman: My favorite everyday smoke is our Cuesta-Rey Centro Fino #60, a delicious, medium-bodied 6 x 50 cigar hand rolled with a very flavorful Ecuador sun-grown wrapper. For special occasions I will smoke our Diamond Crown MAXIMUS, but only when I am sitting down.

Patrick Lauer for Cigar Review
Patrick Lauer

More Cigar Industry Interviews:
Drew Estate Interview with Steve Saka – December 2005

Interview with Carlos Toraño

Interview with Jose Oliva of Oliva Cigars

Camacho Cigars Interview




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