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An Interview With Jose Orlando Padrón, Chairman, Padrón Cigars Inc.

The patriarch and founder of Padrón Cigars Inc. has been making cigars since 1964.
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Antonio Banderas, Nov/Dec 2005

In December 2004, the Padrón family celebrated its 40th year making cigars, but it has been growing and processing tobacco since the 1850s when the clan acquired land in Cuba's best tobacco area, the Vuelta Abajo. Padrón's Anniversary cigars are some of the world's most sought-after smokes, and its core Padrón line is one of the best buys in the market. Family patriarch Jose Orlando Padrón, 79, came to the United States from Cuba in the early 1960s with nothing more than a few hundred dollars and a head filled with dreams, and set out to make cigars in the style of the great Cuban cigars of his past.

European editor James Suckling sat down with Jose Orlando and his son Jorge, the company president (who also answered questions), in their factory in Estelí, Nicaragua, and spoke about the past, present and future of their cigars. The interview was conducted in Spanish and then translated.

James Suckling: Why has Padrón Cigars been so successful?
Padrón: We have the smoker's trust. We've had clients for 40 years. When you are congratulated by those who smoke your cigars then you know that you are doing things right.

Q: I remember your 40th anniversary party in Miami last December, and you mentioned the hammer you had in your office. Can you tell me about this?
A: When I arrived in Miami, I was receiving $60 at the refuge. I felt like a beggar. I had been through a great deal in Spain and I told myself I have to find a way to make a living. There was this woman in Miami that told me "I will give you a hand," and I said, "help me buy a lawnmower so that I can cut grass." We bought a lawnmower that cost $59. At the end of the next week, I repaid her. In time, I put together all the equipment for garden work. In the mornings—5 a.m.—I would go to work until noon. The sun was so strong I would stop, and go back to work again at 6 p.m. I started saving a bit of money. At the time, a friend of mine from Cuba who was distributing food at the refuge gave me a hammer because he knew I was doing the odd carpentry job. I was a gardener during the day and a carpenter at night. That little hammer is a keepsake. It's something to show my sons and everybody else. To make them aware of the sacrifices I had to make in order to get to this point.

Q: So you worked two jobs to put together enough money to start your cigar factory?
A: Yes, I managed to put together $600, and I rented a space. It was very small. I still have the first electricity bill for $52. I was a big smoker in Cuba. I loved cigars. This is something you carry in your blood. I was born in the middle of all that, and that is why I love it so much. When I arrived in Miami the only tobacco here was the so-called Philippine kind. It cost six or seven cents. You cannot imagine what I went through to smoke a good cigar.

Then I said I am going to build a cigar factory in Miami, because Cubans here would miss Cuba, but not Cuban cigars, if I made a good smoke. I accomplished this and the reason is I had my clients behind me.

Q: What do you think of the cigar market in the United States now?
A: The market can be maintained, but we have to be careful with this new boom. It could go down. Everybody seems to have started producing more cigars, but that's something Padrón hasn't done, and that's why we are still around due to the previous experience we had. We didn't do that during the last boom in the mid-1990s.

Q: So you think there is now a mini-boom?
A: There is a mini-boom now, and the time will come when the market will be saturated with inexpensive cigars.

Q: Like it's happened before?
A: Yes, like before.

Q: How is this mini-boom possible when it is so difficult for smokers nowadays? They have no place to smoke.
A: It could be a mini-boom due to manufacturers increasing production and storing stock. Nobody knows how much is stored away. There could be 50 or 100 million cigars that haven't been sold. This is not Padrón's situation because we produce and sell them immediately. In our case we never have cigars in stock. We produce our cigars and the smoker immediately enjoys our cigars. We are always in touch with the market. This is very important. If a smoker complains about a cigar we say: send it to us to check out what happened, if it was the roller or whatever happened.

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