Frank Correnti Cigars Ltd.
606 King Street West
Toronto, ON, M5V 1M6
An elaborately embossed red and gold Cigar Label, bearing the dates 1882-1932, commemorates Kristian Miller’s first fifty years in the Cigar Business.
Kristian’s great grandson, Johnny Miller, treasures fond memories of Grandfather’s Cigar Factory in Copenhagen, Denmark. His entire family – father, aunts, uncles, cousins - rolling Cigars around the big coal stove late into those bitter winter evenings. On just such evenings a host of colourful clients would linger beneath spirals of blue smoke, a cozy, convivial atmosphere as they warmed to Kristian’s tales of exotic, sun-drenched Havana. Stories they had doubtless heard before. This is how the Cigar Business works its way into the blood, how Cigar Traditions are born.
Today, embarking on the new Millennium, in an era of panoramic change, little has changed in the Cigar Business. Apart from a relocation to Canada, little has changed in the Miller Family's approach to the Cigar Business. In fact, only a passion for Cigars could explain the countless hours of personal attention the Miller Family dedicates to preserving the integrity of the Redencion Cigar.
Only tradition could explain the perseverance of Kai and Ulla Miller, John’s parents, who arrived in Toronto in 1956. Kai rolling as many as 500 cigars a day, seven days a week, just to stay in business. This at a time when a Petit Corona sold for twenty cents, if you could find a buyer for the premium product against machine made Cigars at ten cents a five pack. Ulla would in turn press, band, cellophane, box and as often as not deliver those Cigars after putting in her regular shift as a bookbinder. With Kai virtually chained to his roller’s table for fifteen hours a day, and Ulla working two full-time jobs, the task of selling the inventory fell to John, who has been delivering, selling and smoking Cigars since he was twelve.
In the early Sixties, prior to the advent of the ‘convenience’ store, neighborhood tobacconists accounted for the bulk of Cigar sales and the national retailers were Dunhill - through Simpsons - and United Cigar Stores. John traversed the country several times calling on retailers and steadily increasing sales. By the mid-Seventies the family had become distributor for most of the international brands, including General Cigar, Macanudo, Gold Label, Montenegro and a host of others. But international distribution lacked the feel, the personal touch that father and son had grown to love, and in 1977 Ulla Miller, knowing what was missing, purchased Frank Correnti Cigars Limited with her bookbinding earnings.
Frank Correnti had in fact worked for the Miller's, making the KAMAS - K.A. Miller & Son - Cigar in the Sixties. He left them to buy the Lopez Cigar Company. Around since the 20's, The Lopez Cigar Company was originally The Hernandez Cuban Cigar Company, founded in Toronto prior to the turn of the century.
"It was to continue this tradition that we decided to keep the Correnti name," explains John.
Correnti’s prices were higher than ours so we kept the name”, quips Ulla, still putting in three or four hours a day at age seventy-seven. “The Seventies were worse than the Sixties in this bloody Cigar business.”
In the Eighties John founded The West Indies Cigar Company in Barbados. Within a year customers included most major hotels on the island and Cigars were being exported to other Caribbean Islands, as well as to European Tobacconists of longstanding Family acquaintance.
“I love to travel, but the travel was killing me.” says John. “To do business in the Islands you have to be there all the time. I came to understand that my roots were in Toronto and that that was never going to change.”
So what has been impact of the great Cigar Boom of the Nineties? Has the Miller Family cashed in on the latest craze like so many others? Let’s ask Johnny.
“What people have to understand is that this is a Family Business, with the emphasis on Family. My Mom, my sons and my wife all work here, day-in and day-out. Sure, this has been a good long boom and maybe some opportunists have cashed in, but our interest is long-term, we’ll be here because we understand that there will always be a demand for quality.
Looking back, John suggests that Correnti made more Cigars in the in the Eighties than the Nineties.
“The strength of Redencion has always been in the personal touch, old-tech, not high-tech.”
Like his Father and Grandfather before him, John chooses every bale of tobacco personally, in Cuba. Only half a dozen individuals on the planet enjoy this privilege. Relationships with Cuba go back over a century because making Cigars is not about politics or business, but about Passion and Respect. Cigar Makers are a universal family. They do what they do out of a
Love of The Leaf.