The J.C. Newman Cigar Company is America's oldest family-owned premium cigar maker and the last operating cigar factory in Tampa. At its peak, Tampa's cigar industry made more than half a billion cigars annually, more than were made in Cuba. "This used to be the NapaValley of the cigar industry," says Bobby Newman, co-owner of the company with his brother, Eric. In decades past, if a cigar bore a Tampa-made stamp, cigar smokers deemed it quality. Preferences change; today's cigar smokers expect a premium cigar to be made outside the US altogether.
J.C. Newman continues to manufacture 12 million of the company's value-priced cigars annually in the same Ybor City factory and on the same equipment that company founder Julius Newman purchased when he moved the company to Tampa in the 1950s.
The story of the J.C. Newman Cigar Company is distinctly American in every aspect. In 1888, Talmudic scholar Samuel Newman fled religious persecution in Austria-Hungary and immigrated to Cleveland, Ohio with his wife, Hannah, and their seven children. None of them spoke any English. Sarah's first act in her adopted country was to secure a living for each of her sons in industries of her own choosing. For 13-year-old Julius she chose the cigar industry; she secured him an apprenticeship as a cigar maker for roughly $3 a month. The shy and introverted Julius Newman launched his post-apprenticeship cigar company with a single order of 500 cigars his mother cajoled a local grocer into placing.
Julius grew his solo operation into an ongoing concern during the Second Industrial Revolution and piloted it through Prohibition, the Great Depression, and World Wars I and II. Along the way, shy and introverted Julius Newman became autocratic and decisive J.C. Newman. He also moved the company to Tampa in 1954 for its local wealth of Cuban émigré cigar makers and proximity to Cuba, from which the company purchased 100% of its tobacco.
Julius' 1958 death preceded the Cuban embargo, which launched in part in 1960 and in full in 1962. Reinventing the company post-Embargo fell to his son, Stanford, a WWII veteran who ran the company after his father's death. Stanford travelled the world looking for replacement tobacco, and found it in West Africa's Cameroon; and in Latin American countries including the Dominican Republic, whose soil, similar to that of Cuba, had proven a good place for Cuban refugees to plant the tobacco seeds they had taken with them from their native country. In 1958, Stanford purchased the Cuesta-Rey brand from his close friend, the aging Arturo Rey, who wanted to ensure the brand would live on after his death. The purchase was bittersweet: In the year of Julius' death, Stanford achieved his father's lifelong unrealized dream of becoming a manufacturer of premium cigars.
Stanford was also responsible for initiating the highly successful partnership between the Fuente Family, manufacturers of Arturo Fuente cigars, and J.C. Newman. Through the partnership, the Fuente family manufactures and hand-rolls the majority of J.C. Newman's premium and ultra-premium lines, including Cuesta Rey; and J.C. Newman provides all non-Europe sales and distribution for Fuente's own cigar brands.
In 1986, Stanford bought out 14 relatives to acquire the sole interest in the company and tapped his sons, Eric and Bobby to run it. At the time of Stanford's passing, in 2006 Cigar Aficionado provided an incomparably apt account of Stanford's tobacco life.
The business that Julius founded more than a century ago today includes a diverse line-up of premium and ultra-premium cigar brands including Diamond Crown; El Baton; La Unica; Cuesta-Rey, one of the most popular premium cigars in the world, enjoyed by cigar smokers in 61 countries on six continents; and Brick House, rated the top valued premium cigar by Cigar Aficionado. Value-priced lines include 59's; and Quorum, the world’s most popular bundled hand-made cigars.
The Cigar Family Community Complex: Praised by the United Nations as a Model of Corporate Responsibility
As with millions of descendants of immigrants who found sanctuary in the US, each generation of the Newman family has taken on charitable work as a matter of course. Julius supported dozens of families displaced by European wars. Stanford's long list of causes included Latin-American cultural organizations, cigar industry charities, organ donation, and educational and Jewish causes.
Eric and Bobby each have adopted their own causes and partnered together on numerous causes in the Dominican Republic. In 2001, the Newman and Fuente families founded the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation to provide the people of the Bonao region--one of the most poverty-stricken regions in the Dominican Republic–with clean water, food and medical and dental care. For the majority of the residents, this was the first experience of clean drinking water, much less a doctor's visit.
In 2002, the Foundation purchased 23 acres of land in Bonao to start the Cigar Family Community Complex, which has grown into a 46-acre United Nations model complex that includes a primary and high school serving over 400 students, health care center serving over 100,000 people in 12 communities, recreational and sports facilities, community kitchen, vocational classes, health and hygiene outreach programs and college placement initiatives. In 2012, the Cigar Family School graduated its fifth class of approximately 30 students. To date more than 140 students have graduated from the Cigar Family School; with 97% going on to attend college.
Each year, the Foundation enlists dozens of Tampa-area teens to travel to the Cigar Family Community Complex to perform service projects the teens have come up with themselves. These have included eyeglass examinations (the teens also manufacture the recipients' eyewear by purchasing prescription lenses online and fashioning the frames themselves from wire); the distribution and safekeeping of sports equipment; and the installation and replacement of water filters in villages and homes.
In addition to providing much of the operational funding for the Cigar Family Community Complex, the Fuente and Newman families entirely underwrite each year's hundreds of thousands of dollars of administrative, legal, accounting and fund-raising costs, making the foundation one of few in the in which 100% of the proceeds go directly to charity.«Back to stories