E.P. Carrillo Cigar Company – A Family Dynasty

Perez Carrillo Family

The Perez-Carrillo family has been involved in the tobacco and cigar industry for more than a century. The family dynasty, which was founded by Ernesto Perez-Carrillo Sr, is now in the more than capable hands of his son, a former jazz musician, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo Jr.  Like his father, the younger Ernesto has learned the business from the ground up. 

la gloria cubanaIn 1999, he sold the famous family owned El Credito cigar company (known for its La Gloria Cubana cigar) but stayed on to supervise its production. Ten years later, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo Jr. left the company, but at the behest of his children Ernesto Perez-Carrillo III and Lissette Perez-Carrillo, he founded the E.P. Carrillo Cigar Company.  

In 2020, he celebrated fifty years in the industry. Like the El Credito cigars, most of the cigars in the E.P. Carrillo portfolio have received numerous industry accolades. But most importantly, this fourth generation, family-owned and operated enterprise is known for its integrity and dedication to its customers. Lissette, Ernesto’s daughter and company co-founder, sat down with Neptune Cigars to talk about her role in the company and the story behind some of their cigars.  

Growing up did you ever think you would be involved in the family business let alone running a cigar company?  

I’m the fourth generation so I grew up in the industry. My grandfather was running the company, which made La Gloria Cubana. I would go to the factory every day. It had become second nature. I actually worked in the factory while going to college.

Did you ever think of doing something else?  Lissette and Ernesto

My dad always inspired us to go and make our own way. After graduation, I went to New York to study law, and I worked there for a couple of years. Then my father’s time with the previous company was up. We all sat down (my father, my brother and I) and decided we were going to create our own company. While I did take a little break, this is what I have done my whole life.  

What is your role in the company? 

Primarily, I do the legal work and the marketing for the company.  I’m also involved in the different aspects of running the company. I kind of know what everyone is doing. If anyone needs my help, I’m in constant communications with them. I have been involved in every stage of the business except for the blending. That’s my dad’s primary focus. It takes years to reach his level of mastery in blending. This year [2020] is his 50-year anniversary in the industry. However, I’m starting to learn how to blend, which I think is one of the final phases, and it is the hardest part.   

You mentioned you are learning how to blend. How is that coming along?  

So typically, the blending takes place at the factory. My travel there has been limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I had started to learn about the blending process about two years ago. I have been able to learn a lot from my dad and Junior who consults with us on a daily basis and helps my dad run the factory.  I’m thinking about coming up with my own blend to commemorate my father’s 50th year in the industry but due to the travel restrictions, I am not able to work on that now. I am going to come out with my own blend next year. It will be a limited edition of 500 boxes as a gift to my dad. It’s supposed to be a surprise. I’m looking to make something medium to full, and we’ll see how it works out.  

In addition, a lot of the learning can take place here in the office because my dad brings back with him a lot of blends. He’s taught me to know what to look for. It’s a learning process. You put a ligero and you take out a ligero. You get to learn what goes into a cigar, what are the different factors.  

sampling tobaccoHow do you divide your tasks with your dad? Who does what? You do the legal, the marketing and a little of the blending. And your dad focuses on the blending?  

Yes. He mainly focuses mainly on the blending. We like him to be happy. Obviously, he looks at everything, the finances, the sales. He’s involved in all of that, but his main task is to make great cigars like the Pledge. He has to have his mind free to do it. He spends a of lot time at the factory. It is very difficult to run an operation that size.  

For E.P. Carrillo Cigars, what goes into developing a new cigar?  

For my dad, it’s about thinking outside the box. Not always going with the fad or just to create something just for the sake of creating it. Like the Inch, which did really well for us. My dad was one of first to have created the whole big ring gauge fascination back in the nineties.  Most important part for my dad is that they [the consumers] like it.  

What is your favorite EPC cigar?

La Historia, the Reserva, and the Pledge.  

What can you tell us about the Pledge, which the Pledge Prequel won Cigar Aficionado's Cigar of the Year for 2020 and received a 98 Rating?  EP Carrillo Pledge Prequel

The Pledge is the fullest we have done. The most important component of the Pledge is the wrapper. It is a Habano seed Connecticut and my father very rarely uses it. For him, it is very important that this wrapper represents something within our family line. In the sense that he has been saving it for a while. It is a unique wrapper for our company so when people started saying how great it was and how great the cigar smoked. We felt very happy that he had mastered the use of this very special wrapper that we had been saving for the Perez-Carrillo series. We were saving this for a long time because it is not something that is used commonly or that he uses too much in his blends, so he practiced it and practiced it, and I think he got it. So, I’m very proud of him.  

What’s the story behind the names of the vitolas?  

Basically, what we did with La Historia is that it’s about people in the family. The four different sizes represent people in my family. The Senador is my grandfather. He was a senator in Cuba. Dona Elena is my mom. Her name is Elena. E-III is my brother who is an integral part of our company. The Regalias D’Celia is my great grandmother on my mom’s side.  

encore majestic

For Encore, we decided to name it after the grandkids. My daughter is Sky, and that size is called Celestial. The Majestic [which won Cigar Aficionado's Cigar of the Year for 2018 and received a 96 Rating] was named after my niece, although her name is not Majestic, but her name has parts of the name origins. El Primero is named after my son, which is the first grandchild.  

For the Pledge, we decided that we wanted to do something that talks to my father and my family’s commitment to the consumer, the retailers and everyone in the cigar industry. Even if they don’t smoke our cigars, and even if the only cigar they smoke of ours is Pledge. They still can capture everything that has been embodied in the last 50 years. This is my father’s (along with every cigar he aspires to create) best. And the Pledge demonstrates his talent, his ability, his passion. The Prequel talks about what came before. It’s almost like he was destined to this, but he didn’t have to do this. At some point there’s a choice. He wanted to be a drummer. He had some concerns of following in his father’s footsteps. So, the Prequel talks about what came before. The moment when he decided, “I’m going to do this, and I’m going to do this for real.” Sojourn is a timeframe. That timeframe would be from making the decision to getting to the hall of fame to getting the whole La Gloria Cubana – when it exploded and everyone was going nuts for it, and to our last ten years when we started this company. Our third size, which will come out later, will have a name based on this era, the last ten years. I’m still thinking about the name. And then we have a fourth size. We’ll keep getting creative but mostly the Pledge is about his legacy. I guess it is the best way to put it. Also, what our family is pledging to all of you.  

You grew up in this industry. Do you expect the next generation of Perez-Carrillo to be involved in the industry?  

Well … that’s what I hope for, but again my father always inspired us to go out and do our own thing even though we always had this as an option. If my kids would want to be a part of it, I would very much love that. It would be a great excuse to have them around all the time. My nieces too. We’ll hold the fort down for them. They can go to college. Do their own thing. So yes, all those possibilities are there. I do hope that at least one of them will continue. It’s a special craft. It is something that I feel we have been lucky we were born into it.  

What is your absolute favorite part of your job or the industry?  

I think the most exciting part is when I see consumers reacting. I think social media has helped me see that in real time. Before you had to wait for events to see their reactions. But when you see people enjoying your cigars in their everyday life, it just means a lot. It means that we made a product that is making people feel good. And that product even with all the controversy out there has been shown to be fine to smoke and enjoyed by all consumers. I enjoy knowing that we are doing something that makes people happy. We had someone say they had to save up to buy the Encore, and it was such a special occasion that they shared it with their family. That story really touched me. In appreciation, I sent them t-shirts and cutters.  

It seems you try to create a cigar that reaches a broad spectrum cigar enthusiasts?

Our margins on the Perez-Carrillo series are very small. On the La Historia, the factory lost money on it just so that we could sell it at a price that consumers could enjoy. That’s very important to us. Usually, the packaging gets us in trouble because we do very expensive packaging, but that’s on us. We sacrifice our margin because we feel it is important to present our family name in a certain way. One of the comments we here from our consumers is “what a great cigar for the price.” 

Published on March 15, 2021.

Image Source:
In order of appearance from top to bottom
Perez-Carrillo Family: www.epcarrillo.com,  https://www.epcarrillo.com/about-us, Accessed on 3/15/2021
Lissette and Ernesto Perez-Carrillo: www.epcarrillo.com, 
https://www.epcarrillo.com/gallery, Accessed on 3/15/2021
Ernest and Lissette Perez-Carrillo sampling tobacco: www.epcarrillo.com, https://www.epcarrillo.com/gallery, Accessed on 3/15/2021

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