Interview with Jon Huber of Crowned Heads – Transcript

Jon Huber – Personal

I assume you have a pretty good palate.
I hope so.

Does that transfer to other areas like food or drink?
Yeah, my other passion is wine. It really doesn’t pair that well with cigars, in my opinion. A lot of times the acidity of the wine doesn’t balance the spice or whatever with the cigar. I think cigars pair better with spirits. When you talk to old Cuban guys, “What should you drink with a cigar?” Rum. When I was drinking, that was a great combination. There’s nothing better than a good rum with a cigar or even a bourbon or whiskey. But, unfortunately, I gave up spirits about two years ago. Most of the time I won’t drink wine and cigars. It’s more of a thing where I’ll go home and have a glass of wine. I always appreciate the subtleties of the blend of the grapes. What notes can I pick up? I find myself thinking, “Is this balanced or is it too sweet?”

Have you ever tried rolling your own cigar?
No. Never tried and probably never going to try. I’ve never tried to go put out a house fire. I’ve never wanted to be a fireman but I can start a fire. Does it give somebody more credibility? It’s a tough thing to do. I wouldn’t even attempt to do it. I’d probably be terrible at it.

What cigars outside of Crowned Heads do you smoke?
I have several that I’m really a fan of. Anything that Pete [Johnson] does I’ll always go out and try it. I love Illusione Epernay. Epernay is probably one of my top cigars. Leon made an amazing blend with Epernay and what I find fascinating about it is that there’s no Ligero in it. It’s Viso and Seco. Ligero is what gives it the spice and the kick and everybody likes to market, “I have all Ligero, triple Ligero, quadruple Ligero!” It becomes a challenge to smoke the cigar. Can you smoke the cigar? It should be about relaxing and enjoying and really appreciating the flavor and the balance and the complexity of the smoke. [Leon] obviously did that with the Epernay. It’s one of the most balanced cigars. It’s great.

So Pete, Illusione Epernay. Little boutique stuff like Primer Mundo…Curavari which isn’t easy to find…EloGio. I tell you what I just had recently which I was a huge fan of; Herrera Esteli. It’s really a great cigar. I tried it and immediately fell in love with the blend, the presentation, the whole feel of the brand. I sent Jonathan Drew a tweet with, “you nailed it with this one,” and he was kind enough to send me a box.

The occasional Cuban if it comes my way. I think, right now, the most consistent cigars are coming out of everywhere but Cuba. Cuba, when it’s on; it’s great. There are a lot of times where consistency isn’t what it should have been or could have been.

About every two or three weeks, I’ll go to a local store, usually Big Star Cigar in Mount Juliet. I’ll go and talk to Scott and ask, “What do you recommend? What’s out? What’s new?”. I’ll spend a couple hundred bucks on cigars just to bring back to the office and Mike and I will smoke ‘em just to see what’s good.

Do you have a humidor at home?
Yeah, a very small one actually. I have maybe thirty cigars in it. Right now, all I have in it are some of the original Headley Grange Estupendos samples. I have some Mule Kick and then I have assorted stuff that I’ve kept over the years.

Are you allowed to smoke in the house?
Allowed? (laughs) I just choose not to to be honest with you. In the current house that my wife and I are in I’ve had literally one cigar. It was on the deck and I had that with a glass of wine. Thing is, when you do this for a living, you spend so much time doing it, it almost feels like you’re cheating yourself out of time that should be spent doing something else. Do I want to take an hour and smoke by myself in solitude or do I want to spend that hour with my wife doing something or with my son playing ball or something? I got all week in the office. I do it for a living. I’m sure that if you’re a mechanic, the last thing you want to do is go home and change your oil on Saturday, but occasionally you do I guess.

How did you get into the cigar business?
Before I got into the cigar business, I knew that I wanted to spend my life doing something that was made by hand. I like the romance of something that was handmade and came from the earth and all that. At that point I was torn between pursuing something in wine or cigars. Once I started learning more about the winemaking process and I went to Napa and Sonoma. I realized there’s still a lot of machinery in that process that crushes the grapes. It does all this stuff. It takes the skin off…there’s a lot of machinery. You go to a cigar factory, there’s no machinery. Literally, by the sweat of their backs, they’re harvesting tobacco. They’re hanging it in the barns. They’re curing it, rolling it, shaping it, everything. It’s all handmade. That’s what I find beautiful about cigars. The romance, the history…and you go down to the factory and you just fall in love with it and you just go “man…” – or you don’t. I think it gets in your blood to a certain point and you become passionate about it. It sounds like a cliche but it’s true. You do and you have to be. You can’t really fake it. I’ve seen people over the years come in and say, “Oh I’m going to be a cigar guy.” They put their name on a cigar and five years later you go, “What ever happened to that guy?”

Was CAO your first job in the industry?
That was my only other job up until now. I got started with CAO because, as I got more and more into cigars – there were no blogs at that time. I think Cigar Family had a forum and that was about it. I bought Cigar Aficionado, started reading through it and I had a little notebook that I started taking notes on cigars. I would save up whatever and every week I would go buy two or three cigars, smoke ‘em and take notes. Then I realized this is what I want to do. I started sending letters out to everybody in the magazine. I literally took Cigar Aficionado magazine, saw an address, made a phone call, wrote a letter, and got rejected by every company in the magazine. Everybody I mean literally. I even sent Cigar Aficionado a letter and said, “I’ll be your Southeast correspondent.” I didn’t know. I just wanted to get in the business. I still have, somewhere, Gordon Motts’ rejection letter, which is kind of fun because now I know Gordon on a more personal level. I couldn’t even get hired at a tobacconist. I went to Uptown’s and applied for a $7/hour job working retail and, “No don’t got any room for you.” Nothing. It’s funny; the manager that I called and asked for a job ended up coming to CAO two years later and asking us for a job. We didn’t hire him. So it’s a little bit of karma, I guess. So literally, it sounds like I’m making this up but it’s true; the very last ad in that magazine was a CAO ad. I looked at the address at the bottom and it said “830 Kendall Drive, Nashville TN.” I was like, “Nashville? Where’s this?” So I called and said, “What’s the owners name?” They gave me the owners name. I wrote a letter and sent it and never heard anything for four months. And then four months later I get this voicemail and it was Cano. He says, “I got your letter and I’d like to talk to you.” I went in and I interviewed twice. CAO at that time was very small…like four people. Cano says, “the only thing I really need is a shipping manager.” He says, “I don’t really have any opportunities but if you want to do that…” And I was like, “Boom! Let’s go. I’ll be the best shipping manager you can ever find.” I knew nothing about shipping or anything like that but I did that about five months.

In the interim, I was very enthusiastic about the brand and I found a way to finagle myself onto a radio show as a cigar authority. It was 103.3 KDF. It used to be a rock station. Now it’s probably country or something. One day in the morning I heard they were doing a promo where they were giving two tickets to a prize fight and a box of cigars. So I call the station. I had no filter. I would just go for something. I call the station and say, “Where are you getting the cigars?” He says, “I don’t know. I just thought it would be a cool gift.” I said, “Well, look, I work for a cigar company. I’ll give you a box of cigars, they’re worth $200. Just give me a few ads on the air.” He said, “sure fine” and it was easy as that. Then I called him back and said, “cigars are getting pretty hot right now.” This was ‘96/’97, something like that. I said, “you need somebody to come in and talk about cigars.” He says, “you want to come in Friday during drive time?” I said, “Yeah.” I went in and did it before work and he said, “This went really well. Come back again.” I did it for like four weeks. I became a regular on this show for a month.

At the time, there were cassette tapes. You guys probably don’t remember cassette tapes. They gave me a stack of cassette tapes with all the shows on it so I went back to Cano and I played him these tapes of me on the show. He’s like, “Who is this?” I say, “It’s me!” He’s like, “Really? You’re pretty good at this. Ya know what? You’re the worst shipping manager ever. You’re now going to be in charge of promotions and public relations.” From there it just went.

Leave a Reply