Gurkha has come a long way from the garage-sized warehouse in the free zone of Miami to a 40,000-square-foot facility in Tamarac
By Randy Mastronicola
photos Courtesy Gurkha Cigar Group
Cigars make great gifts. They represent family, luck, destiny, vision and generosity—all gifts for sharing and receiving. Gurkha Cigar Group Chairman, Kaizad Hansotia, discovered this first-hand in 1989 when exploring his roots on vacation in India.
Kaizad’s family was already immensely successful in the business of making luxury watches and a variety of other timepieces when Kaizad happened upon a Portuguese cigar roller who was selling his product under the name of Gurkha. Kaizad was enthralled by the man’s craft and thought his cigars would make unique gifts for customers of the family business. He learned that these Gurkha cigars were named after Nepalese warriors whose bravery had inspired British troops, and the intrigue surrounding the cigars proved too tempting to pass up. Kaizad decided to purchase the man’s entire stock for a nominal investment of $149.
Gurkha cigars were initially sold at a friend’s duty free shop, and the demand was unbelievable. Kaizad quickly decided to enter the business of luxury cigars. Here he was, a man of Indian descent raised in Hong Kong and London, who happened upon a Portuguese cigar roller with a product named after Nepalese soldiers, and who would shortly forge a bond with a legendary Cuban-heritage cigar company (Gurkha’s first cigars were rolled by theToraño family). And the journey had just begun. Buying those first Gurkha cigars proved to be a defining moment in Kaizad’s life, and a great gift—one that he would share with cigar lovers throughout the world.
The Gurkha Cigar Group is steeped in legend and tradition. The portfolio that Kaizad Hansotia has developed features the highest quality blends that contribute 48 distinct brands to the cigar universe. Approximately 4 million cigars are produced each year and the Gurkha Cigar Group is recognized as one of the world’s preeminent cigar makers, favored by global leaders, dignitaries, royalty and celebrities. In keeping with the company’s warrior lineage, the United States Special Forces and SEAL Teams are clients, as well.
Randy Mastronicola: Gurkha’s backstory is fascinating. How do you stay connected to that young man who happened upon a dream now that you are regarded as one of the most recognizable ambassadors in the cigar world?
Kaizad Hansotia: I always try to stay humble in my roots and remind myself of the Gurkha soldiers when developing the brand. I constantly remind myself of military themes that coincide with our Gurkha soldier, but it is most important to remember the consumer and what drives the palate when we’re developing new cigar lines. I follow the market and research what people are talking about. I ask consumers in shops that I travel to worldwide for their input. I never sacrifice quality and the level of tobacco that we use.
Can you give an overview of how you balance quality and taste profiles with your goal of reasonable price points?
We strive to have cigars available for everyone without sacrificing quality. That is paramount. I want to make sure that every consumer is satisfied with what he or she finds when smoking our cigars. I want to know that there is a diverse flavor profile, body and size available for everyone. Most of all, I want to make sure that our sales staff educates consumers on what’s right for them rather than focusing on the next sale.
Your company has such iconic cigars. How do you deal with the challenge of upholding the tradition of your core brands while developing new products?
Change is key in this business. To stand still is to die in someone’s memory. While we continue to produce some limited-edition cigars in smaller runs, we have to constantly develop new brands to bring to the forefront. With outlets such as social media and the Internet, information is readily available, and if you’re not on the front page you might as well be gone.
We’ve had the same design team for the greater part of the past two decades. Working together helps us to consistently maintain the brand while bringing it to the next level.
Your 125th Anniversary and Cellar Reserve lines have been hugely successful. Do you believe these cigars will usher in a new generation of enthusiasts?
Yes! We couldn’t be more proud of the way that these cigars have been rated and also promoted by the media. The success of staple cigars such as these helps to show consumers that we are consistently creating good blends. It allows us the opportunity to introduce new blends with a credible backbone.
How do you market your various brands in the United States versus global outreach?
We have to constantly remember that while we all fell in love with the leaf at one point, the leaf is quite different across the pond. Sizes, flavor profiles, price points and clientele all vary from country to country, and we need to adapt to the differences in order to have a presence there.
What goes into the process of determining which blends get redefined and those that do not at Gurkha Cigar Group?
We like to take a look at what consumers and the media talked about and when. If we feel like the brand coincides with something of today’s nature but was released 10 years ago, we might re-blend and bring it back. But for the most part, we’re constantly trying to retire the old and bring out new brands with innovative concepts.
What does the creative process look like when you decide to initiate a limited-release item and/or a rare tobacco product? Additionally, how does the artistry of your packaging come into development?
It’s a very fun process when it happens. I usually sit with my design and marketing team and just bounce ideas back and forth. Some of the team members may search Google, while others look through magazines and pictures. When we find something that either I like or that the group wants to stick with, then we get the wheels turning and start writing things down. After multiple drafts we end up continuing to tweak the packaging and design until it is just right for the Gurkha brand.
How do you maintain quality control over your factories?
We visit with our factories very regularly, but also are in constant communication with them on an almost daily basis. We consider our factory partners to be like family, so we trust that they are working toward our every interest and the same goal.
Do you believe you’ve accomplished your goal of maintaining one foot steeped in tradition while modernizing your business?
I am very pleased to see where our brand has come and the growth we can continue through the future. We’ve come a long way from the garage-sized warehouse in the free zone of Miami to our 40,000-square-foot facility in Tamarac, and from the trunk and suitcases I used to drag through IPCPR to our 4,000-square-foot booth where we exhibit today.
Like I said before, I ground myself and keep our roots firm, but there’s always a metamorphosis of your business and brand that you have to consider and embrace. The alternative is the death of your brand.
Can you give us a snapshot of what we should expect from Gurkha in the near future?
You can always expect something good from Gurkha Cigar Group, especially with IPCPR only a short few months away. I’ll tell you to expect something to be added to the Cellar Reserve line and more traditional brands coming out than flashy. Other than that, you’ll have to wait and see!
Randy Mastronicola is a freelance writer living in Southern California. He has written advertising campaigns for radio and television and is the author of “Zen Guido’s Italian American Pop Culture” column for Examiner.com. A long-time cigar enthusiast and a former corporate marketing executive, he has recently begun consulting in the cigar industry.