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Recollections

These friends of Cigar Aficionado were there at the beginning in 1992, and they are still working with cigars today.
From the Print Edition:
Cigar Aficionado's 20th Anniversary, September/October 2012

(continued from page 3)

Enrique Mons

Enrique Mons claims he is personally responsible for more than $23 million in retail cigars sales, from his time as the first director of the Quinta Avenida and 16th Street La Casa del Habano, which he opened in Havana in 1989, to his own Casa del Habano at Club Habana, which he started in 1999. That averages out to  more than $1 million a year in cigar sales during that period. “Cigars have brought me everything, from the people I’ve met, the countries I’ve visited, the hotels I’ve stayed in. What is a Habanos cigar to me? I couldn’t have done those things any other way.” He says he’s spent 40 years in the cigar business because of the love he has for it. He came from a tobacco family, worked as tobacco selection man in a factory in Pinar del Río and then moved to Havana in 1959, where he trained as a roller for two years before working at the Heroes del Moncada and José Piedra factories. In 1971, he became a quality control director for Cubatabaco, where he spent 18 years. Then, in 1989, he launched the first Casa del Habano. —G.D.M.

Eric and Bobby Newman

Eric Newman was president of Tampa-based J. C. Newman in 1992, a company started by his grandfather in 1895. His younger brother, Bobby, was vice president. Eric recalls striving to grow in a declining market: “Smoke shops, cigar manufacturers and tobacco growers were all struggling, experiencing falling sales and shrinking margins, especially for premium cigars. The cigar business wasn’t a lot of fun back then.” Bobby recalls the instant buzz in the business once Cigar Aficionado released its first issue. “Cigars became the hottest commodity around. It seemed that just about every movie star and famous athlete wanted their own cigar named after them. Overnight, 100 factories opened up in the Dominican Republic and Honduras by people wanting to get rich quick. The price of tobacco was being insanely bid up, doubling every six months. A mediocre cigar maker in an established factory one day could be hired away by a new factory to be their factory manager the next day. It was a crazy time to be in the cigar industry.” —G.M.

José Orland and Jorge Padrón

Padrón cigars have been made since 1964, when Cuban émigré José Orlando Padrón opened a cigar shop in Little Havana, Miami. His cigars—dark and gutsy fumas that were rolled quicky and sold very cheap—soon found a following in the local market, and were rolled in the millions. The elder Padrón endured bombings, an embargo on Nicaraguan products, hurricanes and more throughout his years, while his son Jorge saw the promise in opening up new markets. In 1994 the duo created a masterpiece, the premium-priced and elegant Padrón 1964 Anniversary Series. With their distinctive box-pressing (rare at the time) and well-aged Cuban-seed tobaccos, the cigars soon established the Padróns as a force in the market. “We’re lucky,” says Jorge Padrón. “My generation hasn’t had to face the same problems—the fires, the bombing, the starting of a company from scratch. My challenges are all different. Improving on what has been done. It’s trying to understand and appreciate what my father did, and all the sacrifices are worth it. Growing the company. Having the restraint to ensure that it doesn’t get compromised.” —D.S.

John Oliva Sr.

John Oliva Sr. played both offense and defense for the University of Florida, but he never had a harder day than the one in 1962 when his father, Angel Oliva Sr., decided that 144 cartons of wrapper tobacco needed to be repacked—by the two of them alone. “We started at 8 o’clock in the morning,” he says. “We finished at 3 o’clock in the morning. Hardest I ever worked in my life.” Hard work goes hand in hand with the Olivas, Cubans who settled in Tampa and are known for growing some of the world’s finest tobacco, including Ecuador Sumatra and Habano, leaves that go around such well-known cigars as Ashton VSG and My Father. The past 20 years have brought great demand, but Oliva has remained circumspect. “We believe [growth] has to be controlled regardless of outside or market pressure if quality and, therefore, longevity are to be maintained,” says Oliva. “We focused on the long-term effects to the smokers and our company, and easily chose to increase only what we could handle without sacrificing quality.” —D.S.

David Perez

David Perez comes from a long line of tobacco men, but when he was about to join the family business in 1992, his father and grandfather advised against it. “The business was slow. The sales volume was declining, from the ’80s to the ’90s. It was on a downward trend. People were skeptical. My dad and my grandfather said, ‘Go become a lawyer.’ ” Today Perez is in charge of A.S.P. Enterprises Inc., his family’s tobacco business. “Now, the challenges are weather conditions,” says Perez. “From November of ’96, it rained nonstop until March/April of ’98,” he says. “We struggled to harvest 40 or 50 percent of what we would normally harvest in Ecuador. There was one, two feet of water on the roads in Guayaquil. Mother Nature didn’t comply with us.” Today A.S.P.,  known for its Connecticut-seed tobacco from Ecuador and spicy Nicaraguan filler tobacco grown in Estelí, is among the world’s leaders and the business is more than 80 percent larger than when Perez started. —D.S.


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