History of Cornell & Diehl

02/05/19 by Chuck Stanion

Craig Tarler was enjoying a long, eventful career in 1990; he'd been a public relations professional for forty years, had worked for four major agencies, traveled half of every year, and experienced prominent projects such as planning a trip for and escorting the entire United Nations delegation to Montreal, and acting as primary spokesman for the copper industry.

That year saw some changes for Craig and his wife Patty. Perhaps most important was his decision to give up smoking cigarettes and pick up the tobacco pipe again after many years. That was easy enough, but he needed tobacco to put in it; he called his old supplier, Amar Blending Company, and spoke with the owner, who mentioned that the company was for sale. A couple of days later, Craig's employers took him to lunch, and when dessert was done, informed him that not only was lunch finished, but so was Craig. His position, through some cosmic or corporate sleight of hand, had evaporated.

Those who knew Craig would scoff at the idea of him being forced into retirement. Craig Tarler had too much creative energy bundled up in him to retire. He and his wife resolved to find something to occupy some spare time, and the idea of purchasing the tobacco company was brought up. It seemed a reasonable and fun project, and they bought it.

It's important to note that when the Tarlers bought Amar Blending company, they did not receive any buildings or land or equipment; they inherited no experienced employees or time-tested processes. They were able to load the entire tobacco company into the back of a rented van, without even reaching the trunk's capacity.

Those are humble beginnings, perhaps, but the Tarlers weren't anticipating that their new company would become a leader in the pipe tobacco industry. An inventory of that van would not support such whimsical ideas. What they now had was a few bags of tobacco, three or four hours of verbal instruction on how to blend it, a card file of blend recipes, a list of a few dozen retail and wholesale customers, and some tobacco flavorings. They named their new venture Cornell & Diehl, using Craig's middle name and Patty's maiden name respectively, and started production in the garage of their Pennsylvania home.

Those are humble beginnings, perhaps, but the Tarlers weren't anticipating that their new company would become a leader in the pipe tobacco industry.

That didn't last long, though, and as the company began to see some growth, new accommodations were inevitable. Only three years later, they were relocating C&D into the garage of their new home in Morganton, North Carolina, desiring to be close to family, particularly their grandchildren.

It was a lateral move for C&D at first, but the company was indeed growing. Craig and Patty were tireless, and his years of public relations experience had given him the skills to promote the company. In 1995, he recognized the internet as an opportunity and created their online presence. By 1998, C&D had hired one full-time employee to help Craig and Patty, and increased its retail and wholesale accounts substantially.

It was early that year when I first heard from Craig. His PR instincts led him to Pipes and Tobaccos magazine, where I was the editor. I picked up the phone one morning and heard what seemed to be a moderate earthquake on the line. There was a language-like cadence to it, but it was comprised of the low rumblings you hear following the initial crack of nearby thunder. By pressing the headset to my skull, however, I was able to understand individual words through bone conduction, and found I was speaking with Craig Tarler, whose voice was so Sam Elliott-deep and melodious that I couldn't help but be enthused about his proposal that I write a feature article for the magazine about Cornell & Diehl.

The best part of writing that article was my visit with Patty and Craig, who became extended family over the years. Patty was, and is, a caring and empathetic woman, intelligent and insightful, who genuinely loves the pipe industry and the people involved, while Craig was, simply put, a force of nature.

Craig had a quick and creative mind, and it was sometimes exhausting merely to watch it work, careening, as it did, from one project to the next, always with good humor and a down-to-earth candor. He would call me often with terrible jokes and to float ideas; talking helped him catalyze his thoughts, which never stopped flowing. He had a lot of fun talking about whatever project had captured his attention, notably the artwork for some of the tinned product. Craig found a local artist who could render his humorous concepts in vivid color, and Craig would guffaw about the latest on the phone and immediately send me a sample tin so I could join in the fun.

The best part of writing that article was my visit with Patty and Craig, who became extended family over the years.

Craig was great with the public, but Patty was everyone's favorite. Cornell & Diehl took up several tables at any pipe show, from the sheer amount of tobaccos they elected to display. Their large presence made C&D an anchorage point for many, easy to find thanks to Craig's deep, booming voice, and comfortably welcoming thanks to the friendly staff, especially Patty Tarler's genuine interest in and affection for her customers. She had talked to everyone on the phone and it was a treat to watch her meet someone in person for the first time, always inquiring about grandchildren, whether the dog got the cast off its leg, asking about a spouse, or how they did in their psychology class.

Cornell & Diehl tobaccos were becoming popular, that was clear. However, production limitations impeded the company's progress. By 2005, it was time to move to a bigger facility where increasing fulfillment obligations could be better met.

The selected location was 5,400 square feet, a terrific improvement over the 1,000 square foot Tarler garage. Finally, there was space to ramp up production and start to build some inventory, which had traditionally been a problem.

C&D began producing the G.L. Pease line of tobaccos, as well as Two Friends, a series of collaborations between Gregory Pease and Craig. International demands for C&D products were also rising, with accounts in China, Malaysia, Switzerland, Israel and Japan. The new workspace also afforded the company some necessary equipment that required more space than previously available, such as an 80-ton hydraulic press and a cutting machine for flake tobaccos. There was now space for additional staff, paving the way for inevitable growth. With a new surge in production, Cornell & Diehl was able to finally blossom into the mainstream company we know today. The little part-time retirement pastime originally proposed was turning into an internationally recognized mainstream product.

In September of 2012, Craig Tarler passed away, a devastating blow to everyone in the pipe community. Craig was well known, well liked, and involved with prominent pipe shows, where his friendly manner and unending supply of bad jokes had made him so popular. Cornell & Diehl survived the loss, however, with a little outside help.

What few people knew was that Craig and Patty had been talking with Sykes Wilford over the years about the possibility of Laudisi Enterprises purchasing or merging with C&D. The time had never been right, but the need for help in modernization had become apparent. The Tarler family was convinced that Laudisi could provide what C&D needed to advance to a new level. It is unfortunate that Craig Tarler did not live to see it come to fruition, in 2014 Cornell & Diehl and Laudisi finally merging. Some may wonder why C&D was interested in such a business deal, with all the growth they were experiencing; it was clear to everyone at the company that modern production and inventory controls needed to be established, and Laudisi was particularly experienced in that category of expertise.

The little part-time retirement pastime originally proposed was turning into an internationally recognized mainstream product.

Unfortunately, some of the old ways of doing things were interfering with production; when you're unable to build necessary inventory because you stop production to recalibrate everything to blend an individual order of eight ounces of tobacco, it's hard to keep up with larger quantities of production. Once an inventory is built, though, there's no need for an interruption. The company was having trouble reaching that goal.

I covered the story of the merger for Pipes and Tobaccos magazine, driving to Morganton when the Laudisi crew was there and entering upon a scene I could not interpret. I had no frame of reference for the racks of computers, the bundles of cables running from room to room, the various equipment that was being unpacked and set up, the endless bustle of people performing unintelligible tasks. What I was able to understand was the enthusiasm of everyone there. This was the launch of something exceptional.

A few months later, C&D moved its facilities to South Carolina, where it was housed in Laudisi's large new corporate headquarters. It turned out that even there was too small, so it moved again to its own building two miles down the road, with 30,000 square feet of dedicated space. The changes to C&D after the merger were decidedly tumultuous, but necessary for a business to thrive as it achieves more success. Production was streamlined and made more efficient. Inventory control measures were structured for ease of location and utility. Virtually every process was examined for efficiency in the new, larger scale that C&D had attained. The tobacco catalog had become unwieldy, with hundred of varying blends, some of which were popular with only a few consumers at the rate of a few ounces a year. Underperforming blends were discontinued as production and inventory processes were streamlined.

C&D has doubled its staff since moving to South Carolina, as well as increased production to keep up with demand. In the first year of the merger, production was about 19,000 pounds of finished tobacco. 2015 finished over 27,000 pounds, with 32,000 pounds in 2016, 44,000 in 2017, and 56,000 pounds in 2018. That is not an impressive amount when compared to the tobacco industry as a whole, but it certainly signals increased popularity. Several different brands are manufactured by C&D in addition to their named brand, including Briarworks, Castello, G.L. Pease, Captain Earle's, Two Friends, Druquer's, Low Country, Kramer's, and the Maverick brand in Russia.

C&D has not achieved its growth through automated processes, remaining dedicated to meticulous, hands-on manufacture.

Jeremy Reeves, C&D's head blender, has gone to great lengths to source blending components for consistency and excellence, always looking for increased quality in any component that would benefit a blend. He's also been pursuing a knowledge of USDA labeling codes, which make it easier to decode the maturity, quality, presence of green leaf and the proportion thereof, and overall monetary value when assessing and purchasing tobaccos. These codes were developed to help tobacco growers make sure they were being paid the correct amounts, as well as the USDA for insurance claims. Jeremy has taken two courses so far, one on the codes for Flue-Cured (156 different grades), and one for Dark-Fired (57 different grades), with a course on Air-Cured tobaccos coming up in May of this year.

Cornell & Diehl now looks to a future with bright prospects. It is better able to maintain inventory and has been able to expand at every necessary juncture. Boutique pipe tobacco for the discerning smoker will always be popular, and now that McClelland Tobacco has closed its doors, C&D is about the only remaining boutique pipe tobacco company, taking that position and covenant seriously. While the number of employees has increased, the amount of machinery used has decreased. C&D has not achieved its growth through automated processes, remaining dedicated to meticulous, hands-on manufacture.

Pipe smokers around the world depend on this brand. It's a great responsibility taken personally by the company's stewards, and as Cornell & Diehl moves forward, committed to the manufacture of the finest hand-blended smoking mixtures available, it gratefully acknowledges the impressive work of the people who built it, and the smokers worldwide who depend upon C&D for the solace and comfort found in any great smoke.