In 1997, Cigar Aficionado held its first Hall of Fame dinner. More than 400 industry members and cigar lovers joined together at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan to honor six legends of the cigar world.
In 2012, in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of Cigar Aficionado magazine, we inducted nine additional members at the Grand Havana Room in New York City.
This past April, at our annual Night to Remember charity cigar dinner at the Four Seasons Restaurant, we added three new members to this exclusive club: Litto Gomez, the maker of La Flor Dominicana cigars in the Dominican Republic; Jorge Padrón, president of Nicaragua's Padrón Cigars; and Rocky Patel, the owner of the Rocky Patel brand from Honduras and Nicaragua.
Co-owner, La Flor Dominicana, Tamboril, Dominican Republic
When Litto Gomez entered the cigar industry in 1994 with a brand called Los Libertadores, he was a virtual newcomer. Twenty-two years later, Gomez has transformed his La Flor Dominicana mark (the name was changed in 1996) from an unknown entity into a cigar brand embraced by connoisseurs and critics alike for its powerhouse blends and innovative vitolas.
Born in Spain but raised in Uruguay, Gomez moved to Toronto, Canada in 1973 after being denied an American visa. He would later move to Miami and open a successful jewelry store, but after a savage robbery, he closed the shop and turned his attention to a new venture: cigars.
With Ines Lorenzo (who is now his wife) as his business partner, Gomez began making La Flor Dominicana cigars out of a tiny factory with only four rolling stations. Early La Flor Dominicanas were mild. Gomez broke free of the mild cigar mold when he released a unique shape in 1997 called the El Jocko Perfecto No. 1. Later he created The Chisel, a figurado with a wedge-shaped head that was eventually trademarked. He grows much of his own tobacco.
Gomez's knack for innovation has been lauded by consumers and critics, as he makes nearly 4 million cigars per year and has appeared on Cigar Aficionado's Top 25 list every year. Gomez's factory is now in Tamboril, and while his son Anthony has recently begun getting involved in the business, the 61-year-old Litto shows no signs of slowing down.
President, Padrón Cigars Inc., Miami, Florida
When Jorge Padrón began working full time for his father, José Orlando Padrón, the company was already 28 years old and had sold almost 100 million cigars. But some 90 percent of these sales were concentrated in Miami. Fresh out of graduate school and armed with a master's degree, Jorge had an idea: Develop a new, younger customer base by expanding distribution. In 1993, Jorge attended the company's first trade show in hopes of boosting national sales, but the reaction wasn't as strong as he hoped.
Rather than accept defeat, Jorge went back to the factory and worked with his father on creating the company's first premium brand: the Padrón 1964 Anniversary Series. This special cigar was a hit with consumers and critics from day one, as its unique, box-pressed shape and blend of power and flavor ultimately shifted the palate of the U.S. cigar enthusiast.
Padrón's growth could not have been possible without Jorge's vision and his strict adherence to his father's philosophy of quality over quantity.
Today, more than 6.5 million Padrón cigars are sold annually, and the company has won Cigar Aficionado's Cigar of the Year award three times, the most of any cigarmaker, while consistently scoring high in magazine tastings. Jorge continues to learn from his father, who was inducted into the Cigar Aficionado Hall of Fame in 2012, making them the second father-and-son team to be honored in this way.
Owner, Rocky Patel Premium Cigars, Naples, Florida
A survivor of the cigar boom, Rakesh Patel, better known as Rocky, is widely regarded as the hardest working person in the cigar industry. In a given year, he logs more than 300 days and 150,000 miles on the road away from his home in Naples, Florida, all so he can personally hand customers a cigar from his vast portfolio. Patel's work ethic has paid off immensely, as his company has grown from 150,000 cigars in its first year to nearly 20 million cigars annually.
Patel was not born into a legacy tobacco family but in India. As a teenager, he moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin, where he put his natural salesmanship to work selling door-to-door. He became a successful entertainment and product liability lawyer in Los Angeles, and it was in 1995 that he turned his focus to cigars and established the Indian Tabac Cigar Co. with a silent partner.
At that time, he was contracting out all of his production. In 2006, he changed his company name to Rocky Patel Premium Cigars and, three years later, he opened his own facility, Tabacalera Villa Cuba S.A., or TaviCusa, in Estelí, Nicaragua. This factory now encompasses 8,000 square feet. The 55-year-old Patel also now grows tobacco on two farms in Nicaragua.
Additionally, Patel serves on the board of the Cigar Rights of America organization, and often goes to Washington, D.C., to lobby against needless cigar legislation and taxation.