Kaizad Hansotia: India-born, Parsi cigar baron in the US who has been giving the Cubans a run for their money


October 15, 2019

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For Kaizad Hansotia, the world is his address. Born and raised in Mumbai, Hansotia moved to Hong Kong because of the demands of his import-export business. This was followed by a move to London, before making Miami his home.

71560293Article by Reema Gehi | Mumbai Mirror

“But I love Bombay; I try to visit every year,” Hansotia says, as he settles into a chair in the lobby of a five-star hotel in south Mumbai. In Mumbai to launch a duty-free outlet of his premium cigar brand, the 52-year-old claims, “We have an eight-month waiting period for our product. Theoretically, you could get a Ferrari before you could get one of our boxes.”

His clients include head honchos from the corporate world, as well as political bigwigs – including Trump Jr and Eric Trump. “President Trump, however, doesn’t smoke,” says Hansotia, whose name features regularly on lists of America’s most successful entrepreneurs in non-traditional businesses. Like many American businessmen, Hansotia isn’t in favour of Trump’s immigration policies, but, having met the US President on several occasions, he says, “He’s a great businessman. And a politician, whom you can agree to disagree with.”

Hansotia’s advent into the cigar business was somewhat accidental. Retracing his steps to his company’s inception, some 30 years ago, Hansotia shares that he may have been under the influence of alcohol, when “on a whim” during a trip to Goa in 1989, he decided to purchase a “dead, old British cigar brand” called Gurkha Cigars. “I liked the name and thought I should do something with it. And I picked up the label for $450,” he says. “I was in the business of luxury watches. I gifted these cigars to clients as corporate presents. The duty-free guys I was dealing with in Miami liked them and gave me a blanket purchase order.”

A consumer of cigars himself, Hansotia sensed there was potential in the line. “I don’t smoke regularly, but when I do, I want something great. I don’t mind spending a few extra dollars for a superior product,” he says. “I realised that people were smoking the same crap everywhere. There was no edge to the cigar industry.”

Back then, a cigar commanded about two dollars, but Hansotia took a gamble to sell his brand at $14 a pop. “We sold a box for $5,000 in 1992,” he recalls. “It was a line infused with Louis XIII (cognac).” With that series, Hansotia knew he had hit upon a product that was special. “My aim was not to create a premium brand, but a ‘super premium’ label.” “Our boxes are made in Japan, our bands in Holland and the wrappers are sourced from all over the world. Nearly 150 people work on one cigar before it reaches the customer,” says Hansotia. “We take pains to understand what the customer wants and create blends accordingly.”

Actor Sylvester Stallone is one of Hansotia’s loyal customers. He was, in fact, among the privileged few to attend the premiere of Rambo: Last Blood in New York City recently. “It was an honour,” shares Hansotia, who lists American rapper Busta Rhymes, and actors Demi Moore and Arnold Schwarzenegger as some of his other celebrity clients.

Something of a cigar snob now, Hansotia doesn’t think too highly of Cuban varieties. He explains, “At one point in time, the best tobacco came from Jamaica. But in the 1970s, there wasn’t a huge demand for cigars and most of their tobacco fields turned into coffee estates. Connecticut and Cameroon today offer the best wrappers in the world with so many different flavour profiles.”

Hansotia hopes to return to the city soon to set up a premium cigar lounge.

He says it will be a rich, colonial style space. “Aroma and flavour are of the essence for cigar smokers, unlike cigarette smokers, who are just looking for a nicotine fix,” says Hansotia. “Comparing the two would be sacrilegious. It would be akin to comparing beer and cognac.”