The Evolution of Gurkha Cigars
Entrepreneur Kaizad Hansotia has created a luxury cigar brand with its own sense of style.
The fact that Kaizad Hansotia introduces himself as “Kaiser” says something about his personality. He lives big, dreams big and has made an indelible impression on the world of luxury cigars. Since entering the tobacco business with no background or experience 20 years ago—quite by accident—he has turned a faltering company with a proud background into a powerhouse.
Gurkha cigars are named for fierce Nepalese warriors who won the respect of the British army in the early 19th century and have fought bravely as special forces with the United Kingdom ever since. Hansotia identifies strongly with this elite group. “We are the special forces,” he says. “In every aspect of our company we’re fighting battles.”
An Unexpected Opportunity
Hansotia the entrepreneur fights his battles with innovation and a healthy dose of confidence. Born in India and raised in Hong Kong and London, he entered his father’s business upon graduating from high school and was soon in the thick of business at the world’s largest watch distributor. An unusual opportunity came knocking during a vacation at a beach resort in Goa, India, in 1989. Always on the lookout for original gifts for his best corporate customers, Hansotia happened upon a Portuguese gentleman who was making and selling cigars. He bought one and enjoyed it so much that he decided to buy the man’s entire stock—and the Gurkha brand as well—for $149.
He originally gave away the cigars as gifts, but fate had other plans. Clients contacted him, wanting to order more cigars, so it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. He researched the cigar industry and decided that he could make a better product. “I had nothing to hold me back in my vision,” he says. He decided to put a new twist on the way cigars were produced, packaged and marketed. “We completely changed the industry.”
Taking a cue from the luxury auto industry, Hansotia set out to make “a super-premium, pure luxury item” with his cigars. Just as luxury automakers limit production of a particular model to pay attention to the smallest details and give customers a one-of-a-kind product, Hansotia searches for the finest tobacco to craft limited editions of Gurkha’s premium cigars. “We want to stay focused on our quality.”
The brand is also well known for its unique packaging. “You have to hit all the senses,” Hansotia says. “Every detail is noticed.” The boxes, hand-embroidered labels and whimsical frosted glass tubes that encase Gurkhas are works of art in themselves, made to last.
Gurkha for a New Generation
As if to signal a shift in direction for Gurkha’s next 20 years, Hansotia is embarking on a new journey by extending the brand. He has leased the Gurkha name to Los Angeles–based Elite Cigar Group, led by Christopher Pak, Stanley Washington and Thomas Sparico. The group is launching the first Gurkha Lounge, a private cigar lounge at the Solair Wilshire in Koreatown in Los Angeles. Designed by Pak, the Solair is a new luxury residential tower with retail space on the ground floor. Pak has also designed the lounge itself, and the sumptuous space is visually stunning, in keeping with the brand it represents.
Sparico, a cigar aficionado and an early member of the Grand Havana Room in New York, sees the new lounge as an opportunity to offer a level of personalised service that matches the devotion to quality that is a Gurkha hallmark. “The lounge is being designed to meet the needs of affluent cigar smokers,” he says. “Everything is conducive to luxury, privacy and comfort.”
Among the services offered are highly trained sommeliers who can help members choose the best wines, liquors and even sake and pair those selections with cigars. Custom experiences both on-site and off-site include lectures, tastings, excursions and sporting events. A trip to the factory where Gurkhas are rolled and dinner with Kaizad Hansotia, a chance to create a custom cigar blend—the possibilities are limitless. “We want to offer a level of personalised information and service that you can’t get anywhere else,” Sparico says.
While Sparico and his team wrap up final details in Los Angeles, plans are being made for more locations in select cities worldwide. “All the lounges will follow the same Gurkha theme and basic design,” Hansotia says, “but each one will also be unique, with its own individual flavour.”
Gurkha is also branching out into further licensing agreements. One with Classic Sports Brands will make Gurkha cigars the exclusive cigar sold at nearly 8,000 golf courses across the United States. The other is with Millennium Super Yachts, for whom Gurkha will design a sovereign blend. “This separates us from our competition,” Hansotia adds. “We are a complete boutique brand.”