An Interview with Rocky Patel
Rocky Patel, 47, has quickly become one of the best-known faces in the world of premium cigars.
From the Print Edition:
Arnon Milchan, September/October 2008
(continued from page 2)
Q: You were just putting money into something.
A: I had a bigger vision and I wanted to make something out of this company, and I spent a lot of time in Nicaragua and Honduras, asking a lot of dumb questions and emulating the good qualities. And that's what took about five or six years.
Q: Did you ever have a problem with people not taking you seriously? You
were a lawyer, had no background in the cigar business, you're not Cuban….
A: It was difficult, and that's what drove me even harder. Every day, I woke up, looked in the mirror and said, "I'll show them." Everyone thought I'd never make it, and they did frown at me. They laughed at me and said this is just a guy trying to make a quick buck in the business. And the only way I could show them is by outworking them and by doing my own thing—don't give up. You have to look at your competition in whatever business you're in, see what they're doing and try to do it better. I'm a dreamer, and I always dream of new ideas, new concepts, new taste profiles, so we were always progressive and took a chance. Making a real full-bodied cigar. When I came out with The Edge, people laughed at me. A 100-count tray? A cigar with no band? They said it would never sell.
Q: What was the biggest chance you took, besides becoming a cigar brand
A: First, the name change. Everybody in my office thought it was ridiculous to put the name Rocky Patel on the brand. The second was the launching of The Edge. People thought that was nuts. And then that we managed to grow this company with independent reps. And nobody thought we could make a consistent cigar with Nestor Plasencia. I said [to him], "There's no reason with your pedigree, and the amount of tobacco you grow, that your name in cigar making cannot be compared to some of the greatest people in the business out there."
Q: Let's talk about the success of Decade. Obviously, the classic rating in
our magazine is a landmark achievement. It's something we don't give out
A: It's something I've dreamed of for a long time. As a cigarmaker, there's many things you look for in gaining acceptance. Certainly one is to your consumers—when they look you in the eye and say we love your cigar, and you can track it by the amount of sales. And I look up to Cigar Aficionado, and I strive personally to get a great rating, and on a consistent basis, because that shows you that the cigar has been accepted by the connoisseurs. I'm always working on a cigar to get to that level. For the Decade to get a 95, I'm very proud, and very happy.
Q: Were you surprised?
A: We knew we had a great cigar on our hands, and everybody who smoked it thought it was a great cigar. So you never know till the rating is out, and I didn't know until I got a phone call saying it got a 95, in Cigar Insider [Cigar Aficionado 's sister publication] first.
Q: Best cigar you ever made?
Q: What did that do, in terms of demand?
A: It's ironic that this rating came out at a time when we were out of boxes in our warehouse. It does increase your demand, and you see the demand for the cigar has gone up. To get a 95 is a classic rating—that's special.
Q: Is it a temptation to pump out more of them?
A: No, because that's what got us into trouble in the early '90s. When we were a small company, we were worried about cash flow. We're in a position now where we don't necessarily need that cash flow. We're looking to build on our pedigree. We're better off taking our time and releasing the cigars when we feel they're perfect.
Q: Your success has certainly gotten the attention of other companies in the
industry. Lately, there's been quite a bit of consolidation, foreign giants
especially. Have companies come looking for you, said, "Here's a check, what
do you say?"
A: Um, no they have not. I can honestly tell you nobody has approached us. There are a lot of rumors. I get four or five phone calls a day saying "I heard you've sold your company, you're selling your company," but certainly that's not happened. Our vision is to keep making better cigars. It's nice to have the independence to make a decision, to not go through umpteen consultants. I'm happy to have that freedom.
Q: You work with your brother, your cousin. Ownership of the company, is it
A: I own the company. It is a family business, but I am the main shareholder in the company.
Q: You have a partner?
A: We had a partner, but I bought him out four years ago. I own 95 percent of the shares.
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