Frank Llaneza: A Lifetime of Innovation in the Cigar Industry

Early Life and Entry into the Cigar Industry

Frank Llaneza was born in 1920, at the beginning of the cigar industry’s golden era. His journey in the cigar world began in 1936 when he joined his family’s business, Villazon and Co., after graduating from Jesuit High School. His father, Jose Llaneza, had been a part of Villazon in Ybor City, Tampa, which was then a burgeoning hub for the cigar industry. This early exposure to the cigar-making process and business management laid the foundation for Frank’s future achievements​​.

Taking the Helm of Villazon and Co.

In 1953, Jose Llaneza passed the reins of Villazon and Co. to Frank. This transfer marked a new era for the company under Frank’s leadership. His tenure began amidst a dynamic and challenging time for the cigar industry, particularly with the looming U.S. trade embargo with Cuba​​.

Navigating the U.S. Trade Embargo

The 1962 U.S. trade embargo against Cuba posed a significant challenge for the cigar industry, heavily reliant on Cuban tobacco. Frank Llaneza adeptly turned this challenge into an opportunity by cultivating Cuban seeds in South and Central America. This strategic move not only sustained Villazon during a critical period but also played a pivotal role in shaping the non-Cuban cigar industry​​.

Industry Resurgence and Expansion

Frank Llaneza’s innovative approach and business acumen led to a resurgence of Villazon in the 1990s. During this period, the company’s production doubled to 70 million premium cigars annually. In 1997, Frank and his partner sold Villazon to General Cigar Co. for $81.4 million, a testament to the company’s significant growth and success under his leadership.

Contributions to Cigar Making and Brands

Frank Llaneza was not just a savvy businessman but also a renowned cigar maker. He created several well-known brands, including Punch, El Rey del Mundo, JR Ultimate, and Hoyo de Monterrey. His creations, particularly the Frank Llaneza 1961 cigar, are celebrated for their quality construction, flavor, and innovative blending of tobaccos. The Frank Llaneza 1961, with its Ecuadorian Criollo 98’ wrapper and blend of Nicaraguan and Dominican filler tobaccos, is a testament to his skill and dedication to the craft​​​​​​.

Hall of Fame Induction and Later Years

In recognition of his significant contributions to the cigar industry, Cigar Aficionado magazine inducted Frank Llaneza into its Cigar Hall of Fame in 1997. This honor was a fitting acknowledgement of his hard work, milestone achievements, and dedication to the industry. Even after the sale of Villazon, Llaneza continued his involvement in the industry through his partnership with Nicaragua American Tobacco S.A. (NATSA), further solidifying his legacy​​.


Frank Llaneza’s journey in the cigar industry, marked by innovation, resilience, and a commitment to quality, made him a revered figure and a key player in shaping the modern cigar industry. His ability to adapt to changing times, combined with his dedication to the craft of cigar making, has left an indelible mark on the industry. Llaneza’s life story is not just about cigars; it is about the enduring spirit of entrepreneurship and the art of creating a legacy that transcends generations.