CAO Cigars is a brand that truly has something for everybody. With a string of 90+ rated cigars under their belt, CAO’s catalog include every day cigars like the CAO Flavors line, as well as the super-premium Flathead. Innovative and customer centric, the CAO lineup of Premium Cigars pushes the limits of what a premium cigar can be, without sacrifice.
CAO cigars are always on the frontline of cigar innovation, and the results sit amongst the most impressive of premium handmade cigars. CAO takes its name from the initials of its founder, Cano Art Ozgener. Cano (pronounced John-no) did not originally plan on entering the cigar business, starting off in marketing, but Cigar Aficionados around the world are grateful that he did.
Cano came to America from Istanbul, Turkey to study engineering, graduating from Columbia University in 1964 with a degree in mechanical engineering. During his last two years of graduate school, his teacher, Professor Theodore Baumeister, shared with him a love for cigars and pipes.
Cano started his engineering career in North Carolina, and began using his engineering skills to fix defective Turkish meerschaum pipes as a hobby. Cano developed a reputation within the local tobacco communities and eventually gained the interest of veteran tobacconists Bill Fader and Bill Martin of the Retail Tobacco Dealers of America, now known as the International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers association.
Martin and Fader encouraged Cano to explore opportunities within the tobacco world, which led to him forming CAO in 1968. Cano continued to work as an engineer with DuPont for nine years until he was ready to devote all his time and energy to CAO.
The tobacco industry was slow in the 80’s but in the early 90’s the cigar business was booming. Cano decided to redirect focus and began crafting humidors in 1992 with local artisans from Nashville, Tennessee. A year later his first cigars were added to the line-up, but Cano knew he needed help producing a cigar line, so he called upon Nestor Plasencia, in Honduras, and Carlos Toraño, in Nicaragua. The three of them worked together to develop the blend for the original Honduran blend, a key factor in their process was listening to the feedback of Cano’s “young Turks”, a team of blend testers between the ages of 25 to 40 years old.
CAO quickly became known for their innovation, in fact they were among the first brands to focus on a Honduran filler blend. CAO was also the first to feature tobacco from Brazil and Italy in their cigars. Another innovative aspect of the CAO brand was its marketing, in fact, they started as a marketing company, they did not own the production of their own cigars! They were no stranger to controversy, using highly unconventional advertising tends and themes.
The business model changed a bit in 2003 when CAO acquired two factories, one in Esteli, Nicaragua and the other in Danli, Honduras. Both locations work in partnership with the Toraño family.
The company has since become a family affair with Cano’s children Aylin and Tim, a former comedian, joined the operation as Vice Presidents. This policy of family first still exists today. When a position opens in the factory they are offered to family members of current employees first.
In 2010, General Cigar Company and CAO underwent a merger, making master blender Rick Rodriguez the new face of CAO. Rick maintains the brand’s innovative spirit with his Flathead line, inspired by muscle cars, embracing their essence in the way they are rolled. Rick also continues to rely heavily on fan-based feedback to create the cigars aficionados want to enjoy.
Today CAO continues to dominate the market, earning the top scores among the various cigar publications. In fact, they are a constant presence on Cigar Aficionado’s “Top 25” of the year lists. Despite the multiple addictions that are added annually, they continue to maintain their reputation for excellence.
CAO has climbed their own way to the top with a journey unlike any other. They have a unique take on the industry and cater to tastes on both ends of the spectrum. If you’re looking for something impressive and a bit uncommon, pick up a first-rate CAO cigar.