Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Feb 21st 2012 - An Interview with Jon Huber of Crowned Heads

Today I'm starting a running series of 1 interview a week with a handful of people in the cigar industry who have been very supportive of me and my blog. These are in no particular order. Today brings us Jon Huber of Crowned Heads and I'll be featuring Four Kicks.

DCB Question 1:
What was it that you made you decide you wanted to be a part of the cigar industry and how did you start?

JH: Back in 1994-95, I was at a point in my life where I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't accept a "job" any longer; I wanted to do something every day that I was genuinely passionate about. Up to that point, I'd had my share of 'jobs'--everything ranging from being a personal trainer to selling commercial real estate to telemarketing dog shampoo and indoor sun tanning products. I knew what it was like to struggle and I knew what it was like to dread getting out of bed each day. I decided to do some 'soul-searching' to determine exactly what it was that would make me tick and what I wanted to devote every day to. At that time, I was becoming interested in wine and cigars. I found a copy of 'Cigar Aficionado' (was the George Burns cover) and began educating myself about cigars. The more I got into it, the more it got into my blood.

From that point forward, I used that copy of CA to reach out to every cigar company I could write a letter to. Most didn't reply--some took the time to send me a rejection letter (I pride myself to this day on receiving a rejection letter from Gordon Mott at Cigar Aficionado). It got to the point where I couldn't even get a $7/hour retail clerk job at my local tobacconist (today, that same store is Crowned Heads #1 account in the country). Anyway, longer story somewhat shorter, the last ad in the magazine was a CAO ad. I wrote a letter to Cano Ozgener (Founder) and got a call from him 4 months later. The rest is history, I suppose.

DCB Question2:
Crowned Heads took the cigar world by storm last year. What was it that drove you and a handful of the other people from CAO to start a new cigar company after the sale and relocation of CAO? Also what made you keep it in TN? As a TN native I love the fact that you stayed there with Crowned Heads.

JH: At that point, I knew cigars were in my blood and I had no interest in doing anything else; it's what I love and what I do. What fueled me was equal parts passion, determination, and vengeance. Staying in Tennessee was the only choice--my love and my heart are in this city (literally). My wife is here, my son is here, and the people who brought me to the dance are here. I believe in loyalty, honesty, and integrity; there was no check you could've written n to me that would've prompted me moving to another city.

DCB Question 3:
I have seen your interaction on twitter and your site with your fans and it's fantastic. On that same path I've noticed you talking about testing some new blends and stuff out. What if any info can you give me on that?

JH: Mike (Conder) and I just got home last night from spending the week with Ernesto (Perez-Carrillo) at the factory. What I can tell you right now is that we finalized the blend for the new size extension to Four Kicks ("Seleccion No. 5"). I'm very excited about this new size; I can't tell you what it is, but I can tell you that we didn't necessarily go with a size based solely upon how it would sell. Rather, we went with a size that we feel is true to the brand. We also continued tweaking a blend we began working on last November. The blend is for a 2013 brand; however, we will be releasing one size of the brand this summer at the IPCPR show in Orlando. It will be somewhat of a sneak-preview of 2013 and will be limited to 25,000 cigars of one shape this year. I think it's important to get across that this is not a "Limited Edition." This will be a full brand release in 2013. The blending, branding, packaging, etc., will all be 'in the can' for the entire 2013 line before this year's IPCPR.

DCB Question 4:
What is your favorite part of creating a cigar from scratch?

JH: My favorite part has always been bringing what's in your mind/heart to actual fruition and on to the shelf for people to smoke. When someone says they enjoy what you're doing, it's really icing on the cake. But the 'cake' is really the creative process. The journey along the way, i.e., trying different tobaccos, regions, primings, etc., in order to nail what you originally had in mind is what keeps me going. I've been in the business for almost 16 years now and I am still a student. I'm constantly learning something new each day; when you stop learning and discovering, you stop growing, and you're dead.

DCB Question 5:
What are you most excited about for Crowned Heads in 2012?

JH: I'm excited about gradually expanding our distribution base so that more people can actually find and try Four Kicks this year. From the beginning, we always said the tobacco would dictate our growth. We're not interested in opening 500 accounts and sacrificing the quality of the product. Right now, we're at just about 80 locations across the country. We have priority backorders from our existing retail partners that will account for more than half of the first shipment of 2012; what's left will allow us to open some new accounts and, in turn, give access to more consumers. Focusing on the quality of the cigars and not the number of accounts or dollars coming in will give us longevity in this industry; we want to be here for a long time.

DCB: Thanks for your time and support of the blog Jon! It's been an honor to have this interview with you.

Today brings us the Crowned Heads Four Kicks Robusto in a 5x50 vitola. Crowned Heads is a new cigar company created by Jon Huber, Nancy Heathman, Mike Conder, Michael Trebing and company after the sale of CAO Cigars last year. Their first release is the Four Kicks. Hailing from Tabacalera LaAlianza S.A. in the Dominican Republic it features an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper with it's binder and fillers coming from Nicaragua. You get an earthy and woody core that is complemented by sweet spicy flavor notes that is well balanced and complex.


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