On a snowy Friday afternoon in late January, a pair of well-dressed men with briefcases make their way down a back laneway in Toronto’s downtown west end. Through a metal door and up a flight of stairs is the sweet-pungent smell of Canada’s last handmade cigar factory. They may not know it, but they’ve come to buy Cubans from the world’s oldest documented cigar-making family.
“My family has been making cigars since 1882,” says Kris Miller, a fourth-generation cigar-maker whose family owns Frank Correnti Cigars Ltd. Miller’s great-grandfather owned a cigar factory in Copenhagen in the 1880s, and headed the Danish cigar-makers union. Miller keeps his union papers on display in the factory.
After the Second World War, the family immigrated to Canada and became fixtures in Toronto’s once busy cigar trade. In 1979, the Millers bought the small but storied Frank Correnti Cigars factory, which had been in operation, under various owners, since 1906. Miller’s father, John, semi-retired a decade ago to spend winters in the Dominican Republic, but “when he is in the country, he comes into the shop,” says Miller. On most days, the 30-year-old cigar maker is the only person in the shop, rolling Cubans and talking to customers, who find out about Correnti solely through word of mouth.
Benign neglect has preserved the second-floor factory. Original cigar press molds from the earliest days are still in use today. Family artifacts are on display alongside photos of celebrities who have visited the shop: Bill Cosby and John Goodman among them. In closed-off back rooms, the source of the heady aroma—bales of dried Cuban tobacco leaves—are the only leaves used in a Frank Correnti cigar. “The youngest leaf we have is about eight years old. Some of our leaves are 30 years old,” Miller says. The key is to keep them humid, so they don’t get too dry, or too moist. “Too much humidity ruins the leaves,” he says.
Correnti’s famously smooth Cubans start at around $9 for a Half Corona and rise to $52 for the nine-inch Presidente. They’re packaged simply, in plastic Ziploc bags with a requisite Health Canada tobacco warning label tucked inside. The only adornment marking more than a century of cigar-making history? A red and gold cigar band: “Frank Correnti, since 1906. Hand-made.”
Frank Correnti Cigars Ltd., 606 King St. W., Toronto, Ont. (416) 504-4108