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An Interview with Jose Padrón

Chairman, Piloto Cigars Inc.
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Gina Gershon, Sep/Oct 98

Jose Padrón's family started growing tobacco in Cuba in the 1850s. But the Padrón legend didn't soar until more than a century later, when, after leaving Cuba in 1961, Jose Padrón began making his brand in Miami. His motivation was simple. He had grown up around the best tobacco in the world in the Pinar del Río region of Cuba, and he wanted to re-create the taste and quality of the cigars made from that tobacco.

Today, Padrón, 72, continues to make some of the finest cigars in the world as chairman of his family company, Piloto Cigars Inc. The Padrón brand has become a buzzword for connoisseurs of full-bodied smokes. While the family struggled for a number of years trying to solidify its base in Miami and then in Estelí, Nicaragua--enduring anti-Castro bombings in Miami and the Sandanista revolution in Nicaragua--the Padróns have become key figures in the resurrection of the Nicaraguan cigar industry. While most of the family's land in Nicaragua is back in production today, it still hopes to regain title to its best farms, which were taken over during the Sandinista revolution in the early 1980s.

Jose Padrón's perspective comes from the position of a man in charge of his family's destiny. His production has increased during the incredible boom in cigars during the past five years, but it's not running out of control. Padrón's policy of not rushing tobacco into production has kept growth in the brand moderate and steady. For the Padróns, quality, not quantity, is foremost.

In an interview with Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher of Cigar Aficionado, Jose Padrón and his son, George, company president, discuss the family's long cigar history, from their beginnings in Cuba to the company's status today.

CIGAR AFICIONADO: When did your family start in the cigar business?

Padrón: My grandfather, Damaso Padrón, emigrated from the Canary Islands to Cuba at a very young age. It was in the mid-1800s, around 1850 or 1860. In the old days in Cuba, most of the tobacco growers [had emigrated] from the Canary Islands. They were called Isleños [the Islanders]. When they arrived they were very poor and it took much hard work to eke out a living.

CA: What did your grandfather do in the Canary Islands before moving to Cuba?

Padrón: He was very young when he came from the Canary Islands. But there was already a tradition in Cuba that Isleños worked in the tobacco farms. The Spaniards worked in the warehouses. So the Padróns started in the tobacco fields. We are talking about a time when tobacco in Cuba was sold at $7 per 100 pounds.

CA: Did your grandfather start as a field worker?

Padrón: No, the family bought a small farm with some money that they had brought with them.


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