Most success stories don’t begin as humbly as that of Karen Berger. Beginning her cigar journey as a roller when she was 18 taught her every aspect of the cigar industry. She would go on to become the Tobacco Businesswoman of the Year. Building on her husband’s legacy, Don Kiki, she continues developing new blends and giving women a voice in the ever-evolving cigar industry.
Karen Berger: Her First Premium Smoke
Cigar Life Guy: Tell us about your first premium cigar experience.
Karen Berger: My first premium cigar was a Don Kiki Cigar. It was a cigar that Kiki made in the factory. I smoked it, and he told me, “This is what a cigar is supposed to taste like. When it doesn’t taste like this? You get rid of it and destroy it because it’s nothing we want coming out of our factory.” It was a very poignant moment for me.
Karen Berger: The Cigar Business
Cigar Life Guy: You started working in a cigar factory as a roller when you were 18; what was that experience like, and what was the most important thing you took from it?
Karen: I didn’t have enough money to finish my degree in Business Administration in Nicaragua, so I decided to go into a factory and get a roller job. Rolling cigars, I learned every aspect of the industry. Now I am currently the CEO from the ground up. So number one, the dexterity in my fingers is unbelievable.
My ability to navigate around a cigar and tobacco all stems from that experience of being a roller. I know every dimension of the industry.
Cigar Life Guy: What is your favorite aspect of the cigar business?
Karen: Without a doubt, when people say, “I love your cigar!” I love being able to say, “Thank you so much. I appreciate your support.” The enjoyment of someone holding our cigars in their hand, smoking it, is my number one thing in the business.
Cigar Life Guy: What is the cigar industry’s biggest challenge today?
Karen: The biggest challenge facing the cigar industry today is, of course, regulations at the state, federal, and international levels. Navigating our way through laws, licenses, taxes, and regulations. That’s the biggest challenge today.
Women and the Cigar Industry
Cigar Life Guy: Congratulations on being named Tobacco Businesswoman of the Year. Women in the cigar industry are often overlooked. What advice would you give to women entering the industry and women who smoke cigars?
Karen: I am thankful to win this award for all the women in the cigar industry that do not have a voice. Women are found all throughout the cigar industry. Women sort tobacco and roll cigars. There are already so many women in the business who don’t have a voice, so winning this award is me speaking for all the women in the industry.
As for women who smoke, smoke what you like! Don’t feel ashamed of smoking a full-bodied, flavored cigar or this or that. Don’t worry about what other people think.
Karen Berger: The Kiki Legacy and Beyond
Cigar Life Guy: You have worked hard to maintain your husband’s legacy; what do you want people to know about Kiki and his cigar lines?
Karen: Kiki was the most generous man in the cigar industry. He gave so much of himself. And he always put others before himself. That’s why we had slower growth in our company when other companies had quicker growth. He was more focused on helping others than growing his own line.
Cigar Life Guy: You continue to add different blends. What’s next for the Karen Berger and Don Kiki cigar lines?
Karen: Our two new cigars are coming out in July at the Premium Cigar Association Trade Show. Neither one has the name K by Karen Berger or Don Kiki. Our cigars in the future will be under the umbrella called Karen Berger Cigars.
They will no longer have the moniker Don Kiki or K by Karen Berger and then a subset of something like Gold, Platinum, or Connecticut. Instead, we’ll name these new cigars in and of themselves.
Cigar Life Guy: Have we missed anything? Please tell us anything else you’d like the cigar world to know.
Karen: I want everyone to know I am the hardest-working woman in the business, and I want everyone to have an opportunity to try my cigars. If your tobacconist doesn’t have them, please ask for them.
Photo credit: Karen Berger Cigars