TAMPA — Frank L. Garcia used to dream of owning a major cigar factory.
He had some success in the cigar industry, but ultimately had more with Gulf Tile, which he grew into one of the largest tile suppliers in the area with locations in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota and Fort Myers. In 2003, a portion of Columbus Drive between Howard and Armenia avenues near his headquarters was posthumously named Frank L. Garcia Boulevard in his honor.
Today, his son, Frank John Garcia, owns the tile business and its sister company, Gulf Cabinetry, and merged those with his father’s original dream.
In March, he moved the sales and design center into the Morgan Cigar Factory at 2802 N. Howard Ave., around 500 feet from his father’s boulevard.
After months of redesigning the interior of the leased building, the move is finished, and Garcia is showing off the factory.
One of his father’s framed cigar labels hangs near the first-floor bar and in his office, a point of great pride.
“His label was Pancho Garcia — Pancho was his nickname,” Garcia said. “It’s a full-circle moment.”
William T. Morgan erected the three-story, 8,600-square-foot factory in 1901, according to a historic marker outside the building, and operated his cigar company out of it until 1910, when he moved a mile away to the larger Berriman-Morgan Cigar Factory. Over the years, the Morgan Cigar Factory was then occupied by six different cigar companies.
Frank L. Garcia was born in 1924 in Ybor City, when more than 200 cigar factories located throughout that community and West Tampa made Tampa the cigar capital of the world.
In his early 20s, he partnered with relatives to produce the Pancho Garcia cigars. Garcia is unsure from where it operated, but his family described the location as a “buckeye,” which is the term for a small cigar factory. Within a few years, the company grew to 100 employees, but it was unable to survive a recession.
Frank L. Garcia eventually became a tile salesperson, which he parlayed into his own company in 1960 and eventually headquartered on Columbus Drive.
About a year ago, Garcia decided that it was time for a new home base.
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“We were looking for something that could be a hallmark building with some history,” said Charline Fisher, CEO of Gulf Tile. “We wanted something that differentiated us from the rest of the pack. We looked at four or five places, but none hit the button. Then the Realtor said he had a cigar factory on Howard Avenue. I told him that is exactly what we are looking for.”
Knowing the family’s connection to the cigar industry, Fisher wanted to surprise Garcia. Without explaining why, she asked that he go on a walk. When they stopped in front of the Morgan Cigar Factory, Fisher said that she asked Garcia, “How would you like this for the next Gulf location,” to which he emotionally replied, “Perfect.”
The building was already in near-perfect shape. Owner Barbara Baker purchased the factory in 1991, restored it and had it designated a local historic landmark. Even the original cargo elevator was refurbished into working condition.
“My dad would be proud of this move,” Garcia said. “He would be proud of the infusion of the cigar culture into our design center.”