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The World According to Perdomo

Nick Perdomo Jr. will make more than 10 million cigars this year—and he's not afraid to tell you how good they are.
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Rudy Giuliani, Nov/Dec 01

"Here," says the cigar company president, handing a box-pressed robusto to a cigar-smoking visitor. "When you get tired of that thing, smoke a real cigar."

Meet Nick Perdomo Jr., the 36-year-old owner of south Florida's Tabacalera Perdomo. Unlike most cigarmakers, who are soft-spoken men who use reserved, respectful tones when talking about the competition, Perdomo is…different. A selection of typical Perdomo quotes:

Competitor A "wouldn't know tobacco if it hit him in the side of the head." Competitor B "is cheap. He's a quantity guy, not a quality guy." Competitor C? "They just throw anything in there."

Perdomo is an opinionated man. One imagines that he has a tongue without any scars -- he hasn't bit it in years. But his remarks can't detract from his skills. He makes a great cigar.

On the Pan American highway in Estelí, Nicaragua, the winding artery that connects the Central American country to Honduras in the north and Costa Rica in the south, sits Tabacalera Perdomo's new cigar factory. It's hard to miss, bright and colorful in a town defined by drab, smaller buildings. The factory is the staging point for a host of cigars: Perdomo Reserve, La Tradicion Cabinet Series, Dos Rios, Inmenso, Cuban Bullet, the cleverly named Perdomo2 line of squared cigars, and the C.A.O. L'Anniversaire line, one of the hottest cigar brands in America.

Perdomo is hell-bent on pushing his high-end, premium brands, but as a good businessman he can't resist a profitable opportunity. He makes flavored cigars in a corner of his factory for cataloguer Thompson & Co., and recently began making "Genuine Counterfeit Cuban Cigars" for 800-JR Cigars Inc. The intentional fugazies, which retail for about $50 to $60 a box, are made from Ecuadoran, Honduran and Nicaraguan tobaccos and are banded with a copy of the Cuban seal of guarantee, with the word "Counterfeit!" stamped over it in bright red ink. Next up is something even more ridiculous, "Genuine Counterfeit Pre-Castro Cuban Cigars." There's nothing Cuban about those cigars, either.

The combination of low-end and high-end cigars, some retailing for $12 or more, has turned Tabacalera Perdomo into a growing powerhouse in the cigar industry, one that has thrived despite the end of the cigar boom. Sitting at his spacious desk in his Miami Lakes, Florida, headquarters, Perdomo takes out a calculator (which sports a "stolen from Nick Perdomo" label) and sorts through a stack of documents from Nicaragua. He says his 622 workers in Central America and another 24 in the United States should make more than 10 million cigars in 2001.

Perdomo is a big man, heavyset with a round, cherubic face. He recently shaved a neatly trimmed goatee, which was mostly gray. One of his office walls is covered by signed photographs of sports legends such as Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. An electronic drum and a guitar sit in the office -- he used to play in a band. A plaque featuring a Ronald Reagan quote is placed at the desk's edge, turned outward so that visitors can't miss it. It reads: "There's no limit to what a man can do, or where he can go, if he doesn't mind who gets the credit."

"Nick is a genius," says an admiring Cano A. Ozgener, president of C.A.O. International Inc. of Nashville, Tennessee. "He has achieved so much in such a short time."

One of Perdomo's best deals came from taking a call from Ozgener at two o'clock one morning. It was April 1999. His cell phone rang, getting him out of bed. His brother-in-law, Perdomo vice president Michael Argenti, was on the line from Dallas. He wanted Perdomo to speak to Ozgener. Perdomo stood on his balcony, clad in his underwear, to get a stronger signal.

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