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An Interview with Jose Padrón

Chairman, Piloto Cigars Inc.

(continued from page 1)

Padrón: After the revolution and Fidel, there was a problem with the tobacco industry: they took it. In 1959, during the revolution, our farm totaled about 250 acres. That land got nationalized. One part was taken to raise geese.

CA: How did it happen; did someone knock on the door? The soldiers came, the police came, the mayor came? Who?

Padrón: I really don't know because by then I was already gone; but they took it. They left us with about five acres.

CA: When did you come to America?

Padrón: I left in 1961, but I was no longer in the Pinar del Río after the revolution because I was in Havana trying to leave Cuba.

CA: Did you have a problem getting out of Cuba?

Padrón: Yes, I actually had a lot of trouble but I was able to get out and go to Spain.

CA: What happened after that?

Padrón: I went from Cuba to Spain and then came to America, first to New York, where I ironed clothes for two months in a dry cleaner.

CA: And then you went to Miami. Why Miami?

Padrón: I hated the cold weather. [laughter]

CA: How did you get into the cigar business in Miami? When did the Padrón cigar actually begin?

Padrón: I started it in 1964 when I came to the U.S. I got the idea that I could make a cigar; although it would not be exactly like the Cuban cigar, it would be similar. I wanted to provide the smokers in Miami with cigars similar to what they were used to smoking. I began with 200 cigars a day with one roller.

CA: Is that the same place where you are now?

Padrón: No. I just had one roller.

CA: Isn't your Miami factory in Little Havana, near Ernesto Carillo's El Credito?

Padrón: Ernesto is on 8th Street and 11th and we are on Flagler, which is eight blocks north and four blocks west. But at first, I rented a space that cost me $62 per month; I rented it on March 29, 1964. I applied for the license to be able to manufacture cigars but I didn't have the money for the bond. I just didn't have the money--I had nothing.

CA: Were there many cigarmakers in Miami in those days?

Padrón: Just one--Camacho, I think. There may have already been one other brand, Primo del Rey, being made there.

CA: How did you decide what tobacco to use? Your experience was with Cuban tobacco, and of course it was unavailable.

Padrón: I tried blends with tobacco from Puerto Rico, Brazilian mata fina and Connecticut broadleaf. I ended up making a blend from those tobaccos and I also used some Cuban-seed tobacco from Honduras later on. I never made a green cigar with the double claro wrapper. I just started out with 200 cigars a day. Then it occurred to me to invent La Fuma.

CA: What was the tobacco you used in that cigar?

Padrón: It was all Connecticut broadleaf.

CA: One hundred percent broadleaf?

Padrón: One hundred percent, and you won't believe the price. The grower sold me 100 pounds at $70. That's 70 cents a pound.

CA: Did you have a shop where somebody could just walk in and buy cigars?

Padrón: I sold my first cigar six months after I rented the space because of the problems with my license. I began with what was called El Cazador. It had a rounded head with short-fill tobacco. At that time, one of my first clients wanted a big black cigar with the curly head like the ones you would be able to get in Cuba. So we called it a fuma. Normally, it's what a roller would take home with them at night. The cigars we made during the day, I would go out to sell at night.

CA: What was the retail price of the cigar?

Padrón: Thirty cents. [laughter]

CA: If you were a grower, how did you know how to roll cigars?

Padrón: The important thing about cigars isn't in the rolling of it, but in the processing of it and in the curing of the tobacco. Throughout the history of the cigar industry, rollers have never been able to establish and maintain factories. Even the best rollers, the stars if you will, have failed when they tried to start factories. The important thing is to know how to make a good blend and cure the tobacco well.

CA: When and why did you shift from Connecticut broadleaf to the other tobacco that you started using?

Padrón: I could no longer find what I needed to supply the Cuban market in Miami. It's not that there wasn't enough broadleaf, seeing how no one really consumed broadleaf in the United States. But I really did put it through a lengthy process of curing it, and inventory was pretty tight. In 1967 a gentleman came looking for me, sent to Miami from Nicaragua by his boss to show me some samples, so that I could see the tobacco that they were growing. They wanted my opinion. They told me that someone had told them that their tobacco was no good. They were on their way to Europe to try to sell it. I told them that in Europe they weren't going to be able to sell this. I told them that when they returned they should come and see me, and I would go to Nicaragua to inspect the tobacco and the fields. I noticed immediately that the quality of the tobacco was very good. That's why I agreed to go there to see the farms. They took me to a place called Jalapa, in Nicaragua. That was before any foreigners were there in the tobacco industry. They had harvested some tobacco but not much, and they didn't have buyers for that. They didn't know what they were doing.

CA: You obviously liked what you saw.

Padrón: Oh, absolutely.

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