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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

(continued from page 1)

Ozgener was in a bit of a bind. He had a hot cigar brand on his hands called C.A.O. L'Anniversaire, a box-pressed maduro with a broadleaf wrapper and a red band that mimicked the distinctive Partagas Serie D No. 4 from Cuba. The cigars had been made by "Don" Douglas S. Pueringer at Tabacalera Tambor S.A. in Costa Rica, the factory best known for making Bahias. And that was the source of the problem.

Pueringer was kicking Ozgener out, ceasing production of the brand to concentrate solely on Bahia cigars. It was four months to the big industry trade show, and Ozgener had a cigar brand without a cigarmaker.

"Everyone wanted to make cigars for us," says Ozgener. "We had two finalists." Each company made a batch of cigars, which Ozgener and his family passed out to tobacconists to pick the winner. "Everybody picked manufacturer B," says Ozgener. Manufacturer B was Perdomo, and Ozgener recalls that 85 percent preferred the Perdomo blend. "So," says Ozgener, "the choice to us was very clear."

Ozgener loved the blend, which has done well in cigar shops and in blind tastings. Perdomo's version of the C.A.O. L'Anniversaire has received several high scores in Cigar Aficionado, and a recent retailer poll by Cigar Insider, the magazine's sister publication, ranked the cigar as the fifth hottest brand in America. Ozgener was less enamored of the price.

"He didn't like my price," says Perdomo, who has a reputation for charging dearly for his work. "In Costa Rica, the prices are higher," says Ozgener. "In Nicaragua, we expected the prices to be lower. They were equivalent."

Perdomo makes no apologies for charging what he does, and he owns one of the few cigar companies in America that seems to have no problem selling cigars at high prices. Many of his popular cigars sell north of $7 each, while big competitors as well as boutique cigarmakers flock to release new cigars with suggested retail prices of less than $5. Perdomo claims he has the most trouble selling his least expensive cigars. And he says his production costs aren't cheap.

"I pay triple what other people pay in Nicaragua," he says, a claim hotly contested by other Nicaraguan cigarmakers. His tobacco certainly costs more than two of his big neighbors, the Plasencias and the Padróns, as both of the competing companies own some of their own tobacco fields, while Perdomo buys tobacco from outside vendors, most notably the Perez family of ASP Enterprises Inc., who grows tobacco in Estelí. But no matter what price he is paying or not paying, consumers have certainly developed a taste for his cigars.

Long before he began turning tobacco leaves into profits, Nick Perdomo made his living sitting in an air traffic controller seat near Miami International Airport, ensuring that interweaving 747s maneuvered safely through the crowded south Florida airspace. The high-pressure seat had been his home since age 18, first in the Navy, then in Miami.

When he was 26, Perdomo decided that he wanted to own a cigar factory. His father and grandfather had worked in the Cuban cigar industry, after Perdomo's great-grandfather emigrated from Italy to Cuba, settling in San Jose, about 32 miles west of Havana. All Nick Perdomo knew about cigars was that he enjoyed smoking them. In August 1992 Perdomo opened his own cigar company in Miami, naming it Nick's Cigar Co.

It looked like a horrible time to start a cigar factory. Cigar sales were slow. "My whole family said I was crazy," he says. But he wasn't stupid. Hedging his bet, he kept his $75,000-a-year job as an air traffic controller, and moonlighted at his own company. (Perdomo is the second air traffic controller to make a big name in the cigar business. The first, Kevin Doyle of Caribbean Cigar Co., is out of the industry.)

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