FREE SHIPPING on any order!
Showing results for 
Search instead for 
Did you mean: 
Lounge Presidente
Lounge Presidente

A Conversation with Tim Ozgener



From the early days of CAO to launching his own brand, Tim Ozgener has been with the cigar industry through its ups and downs. His newest project, Ozgener Family Cigars, had as strong of debut as I have ever seen, and has taken the industry by storm with award winning blends like Bosphorus and Pi Synesthesia.

Tim was generous to take some time to talk to me about his start with CAO, his biggest personal and professional influences, and how he built a brand from the ground up.

Without further ado, let’s jump into the conversation!

The Conversation:

Kevin: Can you just walk me through what the early days of working with your father, Cano, on CAO looked like for you?

Tim: For me, it really started off with my need to earn allowance from my father by helping him with the pipe business which he had initially started as a hobby. He was an engineer at DuPont at the time and had an affinity for meerschaum pipes, but didn’t particularly like the way the stem connected to the pipe. His background as an engineer pushed him to come up with a solution to this where he designed a stem that was able to be twisted into the pipe, which people really gravitated to rather quickly. People wanted him to start carving his initials on the shank of these pipes, so that is where the name CAO came from.

From there, we started getting pipes shipped to our house where we would price the pipes with a pricing gun in the basement of our ranch style house in Nashville. My sister and I would help my dad do these kinds of behind the scenes things, so we basically grew up as young kings helping him with these odd and ends from the basement of our house as the business continued to grow.

So it really started in 1968 with the pipes, which was a hobby more than anything at the time. 1977 is when it became a full-time business for him and as cigars began to grow in popularity with publications like Cigar Aficionado in the early ‘90’s, the business started a transition into humidors. Then, in 1994 was when we released our first cigar line, CAO Black, and the rest is history.

We certainly cut our teeth in the early days of the business, which really served me well in the long run when I look back on it.

Kevin: As you think about your time working so closely with your father for so long, what were some of the biggest lessons that he taught you?

Tim: First and foremost, he showed the value of working hard and the importance of surrounding yourself with good people. He taught me that it’s really important to be conscious of your reputation and following through on your word.

I had this neon piece of art done by an artist that says “talk is cheap”, which was kind of one of my dad’s mantras. My kids were with my father right before he passed and he told them, “There will be a lot of people in life that will give you advice. Giving advice is easy, but executing is a different story.” Then, at my father’s celebration of life, my son says, “My granddad taught me not to listen to anybody,” which I told him that’s not what he meant.

The point is that it’s easy for people to judge, or to criticize, or give advice. It’s more difficult to put things into action and make things a reality. And this is something my father always believed in.

Kevin: Aside from your family, what individuals that you have worked with in the industry have been an influence on you?

Tim: It’s a good question, and it really continually changes over time, but the core group of people that I’ve worked with at CAO and Crowned Heads over the years have been such a positive influence in my life. Mike Conder, Jon Huber, and Adam Shepard are basically like family now and have made such a big impact in both my professional and personal life.

Then I think about manufacturing relationships with individuals I have worked with over the years - Charlie Torano who is a good friend of mine, and Ernesto Perez Carrillo who has been somewhat of a mentor to me. Rocky Patel, who is one of my best friends in the industry, and I really cut our teeth together around the same time, and I have a lot of great memories with him. Of course, there are a lot of retailers that I have formed close relationships with too.

But that’s the thing about this business that makes it so special – the comradery and the genuineness is something that is just so real and I think this is almost an extension or reflection of the product itself. It’s just a really unique and special industry.

Kevin: So, you’ve spent, in some capacity, around 40 years in the industry – what changes have you seen in the business over the last 20-25 years?

Tim: The first thing that comes to mind is the knowledge that today’s consumers have, which I think is just amazing. For example, if you told someone 20 years ago that a blend used tobacco from Ometepe, Jalapa, and Esteli, they would look at you like you were speaking another language. I don’t know if they didn’t understand or appreciate it back then, but there just seems to be much more genuine interest in tobacco and blending today.

Another thing that I think is really cool is the increasing interest in cigar pairings. Whether it be beer, bourbon, or even coffee, people are looking for a way to take their smoking experiences to the next level – they are really interested in the flavor of good tobacco more than anything.

Kevin: So you helped out your dad in the early days of CAO, but what was it about cigars that made you really want to make a career in this business?

Tim: Honestly, sometimes things happen in life that you don’t really anticipate. I actually auditioned to get into USC’s acting school which was insanely competitive, and at the time, the cigars were just something I was doing because it was the family business, and I thought it was better than being a waiter at the time.

So, I unintentionally fell in love with the business and put all my effort and energy into the grind where I was able to see almost an immediate return which was amazing. Like acting, or doing standup, my purpose with creating cigars was to get a reaction from people – I could see that I was able to bring joy to people’s lives with cigars.

From there, I just fell in love with the process of cigar blending and the nuance of taste, which is something that fascinates me. Whether it’s wine, liquor, food, or cigars, I love things that expand my palette and make me think about tasting notes.

Kevin: Obviously it takes time to build a brand from scratch, so at what point did you know that you were going to make a comeback in cigars?

Tim: I think the idea that the journey itself is the reward is really relevant in this case. I was making friends with people in the nonprofit community in Nashville after my father and I turned our old CAO warehouse into a contemporary arts center, OZ Arts. Through these connections, I got in contact with a career coach who had worked with a lot of local individuals that I have a lot admiration for.

We did this exercise together where I kind of outlined my life year to year, noting what particular periods of my life I was the most happy in, and the kinds of things I was doing during these times. What I found was that during these “up” years, I was creating brands like CAO Brazilia, MX2, and Sopranos – I realized that creating in this way brought me a lot of excitement. So, I told myself, “I love cigars, I miss business, and I like bringing enjoyment to others”, so at the point I knew should try getting back into it.

From there, I started working with a friend who was amazing at building high profile brands like Nike and Google, and together we walked through what it took to build a brand from nothing. I had to identify what was important to me, what I stood for, and one of the most moving things to me is the story of my mother and father – a Turk and Armenian, whose two cultures have a very complicated history. Despite these differences, my mother and father fell in love in New York City based on their shared values of education, reputation, arts and culture and this is really what Ozgener Family Cigars stands for.

Kevin: On the topic of OFC’s first release, Bosphorus, did you expect it to be as successful as it was right out of the gates?

Tim: Not to that degree if I’m being honest. The fact that we got a vertical rating like we did for the blend was huge for Bosphorus, and I think it really exceeded everyone’s expectations right out of the gate. Even though it may have exceeded expectations, I was not shocked that the response was so positive.

When I was working on the blend and smoked it for the first time, I was completely blown away by how good I thought it was. To be honest, at first I was a little nervous that maybe my palette wasn’t what it used to be, but the more I smoked Bosphorus, the more convinced I became that once it got into peoples’ hands, they would love it – it’s very rich, complex, nuanced, and just a really flavorful blend overall.

Kevin: I know this is a tough question, but what was your favorite blend that you have ever released?

Tim: Over my almost 40 years in the business, my palette has changed pretty dramatically over the years through my experiences. With that said, I really do feel like the blends we are working on now are the best we’ve ever made - I don’t think it’s an accident that Bosphorus got the high ratings that it did, and I think that our newest blend, Aramas, may even be better than Bosphorus.

Other than Ozgener stuff, I was a really big fan of our MX2 blend back in the day. Also, I loved The Sopranos blend which had a Brazilian Mata Fina wrapper which is a really hard tobacco to obtain right now.

Kevin: Alright Tim, I have one last question for you: Excluding Ozgener Family Cigars, what are some of your all-time favorite blends?

Tim: I am always trying new things on the market, because I think that’s the best way to gauge what people are looking for so I try to make sure I smoke as much of other people’s blends as I can.

Ernesto Perez-Carrillo’s Pledge is honestly one the best cigars that I’ve ever smoked. Jorge Padron, Carlito Fuente, and Rocky Patel are all friends of mine and the blends that they continuously put out are unbelievable.

It’s just a tough question to answer because I feel like my palette is continually evolving, so blends that I liked 10 years ago may not be as compelling as they were to me back then.

Kevin: Understandable. Well, thanks again for your time Tim. It was a pleasure talking with you and I greatly appreciate all the insight you provided.

Tim: Thanks, Kevin - a lot of great questions and I had a lot of fun doing this today.

Closing Thoughts:


As always, to keep the length of this article somewhat manageable, there was some content that didn’t make it into this piece. Tim is a man of many talents, and we could’ve talked about countless topics outside of cigars seemingly forever.

Be sure to keep your eyes open for Ozgener Family Cigars’ newest release, Aramas, and in the meantime be sure to try out Bosphorus and Pi Synesthesia if you haven’t already!

1 Comment