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.
From the Print Edition:
Rudy Giuliani, Nov/Dec 01
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It was the most modest of beginnings. Nick's Cigar had three cigar rollers and two cigar packers -- Perdomo and his wife, Janine. They packed the cigars in plywood boxes, lacking money for proper boxes or bands. Armed with a copy of the Yellow Pages, Perdomo dialed cigar stores during his breaks, targeting big-ticket retailers.
"When we first started, we wanted to sell to all the Davidoff white-label merchants," he said, referring to the small number of U.S. retailers allowed to sell Davidoff cigars. "I knew those guys paid their bills."
The schedule was brutal. "I would work from 6:30 to 3:25 at the factory, then I would run to the airport and work from 3:30 to 11:30. I was home just to sleep," Perdomo said in a 1998 Cigar Insider interview. "I did that for about 19 months. I thought I was going to die. I was killing myself."
At the time, most popular cigars were made with Connecticut-shade wrappers and had a mild taste profile. Perdomo couldn't get (and didn't like) Connecticut-shade and wasn't fond of Dominican filler, so he made cigars with Ecuadoran Sumatra wrappers and Central American fillers. "People said, 'You're going the wrong way. You should make a mild cigar,'" he says. "I said, 'Everybody starts with a Budweiser, but eventually they go to a Heineken.'" The blends gave his cigars a distinctive look and flavor. He was building a following among aficionados of fuller-flavored cigars.
"I go against the grain," he says. Robustos have long been the best-selling cigar size in America, but Perdomo sells more figurados than anything else. (His rollers are particularly skilled at making the Montecristo No. 2 size.) Now that dark, box-pressed cigars are the rage, he's releasing a rounded Connecticut-shade cigar called Cuban Parejo, a real departure. (The cigar is also available with other wrappers.)
One of his earliest successes was his La Tradición Cabinet Series Perdomo Reserve, a strong cigar brand that averaged 90.4 points in a 1998 Cigar Insider vertical brand tasting, one of the year's best brand averages. The cigars featured dark, oily wrappers. Critics said they were too dark and oily, and were painted, a charge that rankles Perdomo.
"That bugs the shit out of me," he says. The look, he says, comes from leaves grown at the top of a plant, which have the most oils and resins. He says he sprays his wrappers with a mixture of water steeped in tobacco resins, then applies heat to bring the most out of tobacco. Why does Perdomo think he draws the charges of paint? "Your competition always wants to kill you," he says. "I'm the young guy on the block; I've been pretty successful in a short amount of time, and they don't like it."
By 1995, Perdomo's three-year-old Miami factory was strained to capacity, and he was back-ordered on some of his brands. Unable to expand in his hometown due to a lack of cigar rollers, he opened a cigar factory in 1997 in Ybor City, the historic part of Tampa, Florida, that was once the cigar-making capital of the United States. The factory didn't work.
Sales were climbing, but profits remained slim. Perdomo was so poor that in 1994 his company had only $13 in the bank. "I was so broke it was unbelievable," he says. Making cigars in the United States was the problem. "I never made money during the cigar boom. I made cigars in Miami, and we were making $2.50 on a box of cigars," he says. "Sometimes I was paying $1 per cigar for labor. It was crazy."
In 1995 Perdomo opened his first cigar factory in Nicaragua, on a small street in Estelí. He outgrew the cramped site almost immediately, and abandoned it for a larger factory, which he built to his specifications, in 1999. Now, he says, the new factory needs expanding -- or a second, sister factory to accommodate his rising orders. Perdomo goes through cigar factories like three-year-olds go through long pants.
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