The air was thick and humid, as it always seems to be this time of year in southern Florida. The visitors came in droves, dressed in suits, guayaberas and elegant dresses for this special occasion. There were more than 800 in total: Cigar retailers, cigarmakers, brokers of tobacco leaf, friends and family, competitors and colleagues, all united on Saturday night to celebrate a milestone and pay tribute to the work of a great man.
Fifty years ago today, on September 8, 1964, a Cuban émigré named Jose Orlando Padrón opened a six-foot-wide storefront in Little Havana, only three miles from where the grand party was held. He put his own name on cigars made by one roller, sold them for a quarter apiece, and took the baby steps to make a living in his new home. He never dreamed he would end up here, five decades later, running a cigar company that makes 6.5 million handmade cigars a year, one of the cigar world's most impressive success stories.
Those early days were lean, and the future was quite uncertain, and the road to success was long and hard. His legacy was on display Saturday night in Miami, with his wife, children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces and cousins surrounding him in a festive evening filled with plumes of rich, Nicaraguan cigars, sweet Bacardi rum and succulent Caymus wines.
The party featured the debut of the Padrón 50 cigar, an anniversary smoke coming to market later in the year. There will be two varieties, a robusto (available in maduro and natural wrappers) sold in traditional wooden boxes, and a larger, limited-edition smoke presented in a stunning white humidor. Both were on display, and the robusto version was passed out to each guest.
The guests included many of the cigar world's most prominent names, competitors who came out to tip their hats to the five decades of work of Padrón, who turned 88 this year: Carlos Fuente Sr. and Carlos Fuente Jr. of Arturo Fuente cigars; Robert Levin of Ashton; Rocky Patel, Nish Patel and Nimish Desai of Rocky Patel Cigars; Litto Gomez and Ines Lorenzo-Gomez of La Flor Dominicana; Eric Newman of J.C. Newman; Javier Estades of Altadis U.S.A.; Bill Sherman and Michael Herklots of Nat Sherman; Nestor Miranda of Miami Cigar & Co. and Eduardo Fernandez of Aganorsa.
John Salley, former NBA star and an avowed fan of Padrón Cigars, was the master of ceremonies. Several people spoke, including Marvin R. Shanken, the editor and publisher of Cigar Aficionado magazine, who told the audience of the unprecedented three times the Padróns have been awarded Cigar of the Year, and introduced the man of the evening, Jose O. Padrón.
"A little more than 50 years ago, I arrived in this city with no material assets," said Padrón in his familiar, gruff baritone, his sons standing beside him, holding the microphone as he spoke to the crowd. "But I did bring with me the knowledge of how to work in the tobacco industry like my ancestors. Like many other Cuban exiles, I also knew that success is based on constant work and a clear vision. My vision was to make the best quality product possible."
He thanked his employees, all the people in the audience, (which included some customers of the company who had been buying cigars for its entire history), his family, all the retailers who buy his product and especially his wife, Flory. He spoke of the three countries that have given him so much over the years: Cuba, where he was born; the United States, where he started his business in 1964; and Nicaragua, where he found the rich tobacco that he dubbed "the new Cuba."
At the end of his speech, Padrón spoke of his son Jorge, who is company president. "One of my great prides is the knowledge that in the same way I respected and continued the heritage and customs of my forefathers, there are also generations of Padróns coming after me who will continue those traditions. Jorge represents that next generation."
Jorge was the final speaker. He welcomed his colleagues in the audience from the cigar industry and spoke of the lessons he has learned from his father, among them the importance of family, honesty, humility and integrity, and being grateful for what he has. "Not a single day goes by when one of these principles is not applied in some form or another," he said. "There is no question, in my mind, that they have shaped who Padrón is today and clearly define what is expected of the next generation of Padróns."
He concluded with a quote from the Cuban poet and patriot José Martí. "Men are created in two groups: those that love and create, and those that hate and destroy. I want to thank you papi," he said, before pausing, his voice momentarily overcome with emotion, "for being one who has always loved and created."
To read the story of the history of the Padrón family, see the October issue of Cigar Aficionado magazine.