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Fathers and Sons, Part 1

The cigar industry owes much of its creativity and longevity to the unique partnerships between father-and-son cigarmakers
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Camilo Villegas, July/August 2006

(continued from page 8)

JOSÈ ORLANDO AND JORGE PADRÓN

Josè Orlando Padrón, patriarch of Miami's Padrón family, was raised in Pinar del Río, Cuba's famed tobacco growing region. There, as a young boy, he followed in the footsteps of his father and learned the art of processing tobacco. When Josè Orlando came to Miami, following the revolution, he began rolling the leaves into cigars. It's impossible to imagine him doing anything else for a living.

"I'll never forget my father, when he took the tobacco down from the cujes in the curing barn," says Padrón, using the term for the long sticks that hold tobacco leaves as they turn from green to rich brown. "He said, 'Tobacco leaves are like women: the more you stroke them the better they get.'" He lets out his infectious, hearty laugh, a half-smoked, box-pressed Padrón clenched in his hand.

"When I was younger, my first job was to clean the seedbeds in Cuba," he says. As a young boy of 13 or 14, he would smoke cigars on the sly in a barn. "In Cuba, none of the children smoked [publicly] before the age of 18. They had a lot of respect for their parents and didn't want to smoke in front of them."

The Padróns, like many tobacco farmers in Cuba before Castro's ascension to power, traced their heritage back to the Canary Islands. Josè Orlando's ancestors came to Cuba in the late 1800s. Dámasco Padrón, his grandfather, was the first in his direct family to grow tobacco in Cuba. All the children worked in the family business, but young Josè Orlando clearly made a special connection with the rich, supple leaves grown in the Vuelta Abajo.

"When it was time to turn a pilón [a pile of fermenting tobacco], it was more interesting than to go see a movie," he says. "If you're not in love with this business, it's very difficult to do things the right way."

Josè Orlando has passed on his enthusiasm to his sons. Jorge, 38, is the president of the company, and Orlando, 49, is vice president. "We live, breathe and eat tobacco," says Jorge. "Ever since I've been little, I've always worked in this business."

After earning a master's degree in business administration, Jorge went on a few interviews, but never really doubted that he would soon be selling cigars for his father. The company was doing well in those days, but sales were concentrated in Miami. Sales on a unit level, if not by revenues, were actually higher for Padrón Cigars in the early 1980s than they are now.

"When I came into the business [in 1981—82] all the Cubans in Miami smoked Padrón cigars," says Jorge. "In 1981, my father sold six million cigars, practically all in Miami. I always knew that we had a good product, an excellent product, but I also knew we had many, many markets we hadn't tapped."

"For me," says Josè Orlando, "I saw it as an opportunity to expand the business, because he spoke English. Traditionally, all the interaction had been with Spanish-speaking people."


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