The effects of Hurricane Irma were felt up and down the entire state of Florida. Powerful winds, a heavy storm surge and serious rains killed at least 12 people, knocked out power to an estimated 5 million homes and damaged thousands of homes and businesses. Much of the premium cigar industry is headquartered in Florida—and many members of the cigar business live there—so Cigar Aficionado reached out to see how they weathered the storm. Many have been forced to temporarily suspend business, largely due to power outages, the lack of shipping services and the impact to employees' homes. Here are their stories.
Hurricane Irma hit Naples particularly hard, as it took a more western track than initially forecast. Rocky Patel Premium Cigars makes its headquarters in Bonita Springs, about a half mile away from Naples. The company moved cigars in its warehouse up from the floor in anticipation of flooding before the storm, but the warehouse held and no water got in. However, the resulting power outage has caused the company to temporarily suspend operations.
"We have no power. There's no damage, there's no flooding, all the cigars are in perfect shape, but we have no way to receive cigars or send them out," said Nish Patel. Most of his workers are also without power, and many are without running water, making it impossible for them to get to work. While he hopes power will be back in a few days, he's been told the latest date would be September 22.
Miami was spared the heart of the storm, but the impact was great. Power outages and tree damage were a major issue. Cigarmakers ditched their cigar cutters for heavier implements.
"I spent the day with a chainsaw and a machete cutting trees," said Litto Gomez, maker of La Flor Dominicana cigars. "Power just got back and life goes back to normal."
Ernesto Perez-Carrillo posted a photo on Instagram of himself—cigar in mouth—pruning tree damage with a chainsaw. Christian Eiroa, owner of CLE Cigar Co., lost his boat SEAGAR, to Irma. "My boat sank during the storm," he wrote in an email.
Jorge Padrón, of Padrón Cigars Inc., spent the storm and the past several days at his company's headquarters in Miami, along with many members of his family. "It's a bunker; it's very secure," he said Wednesday in a phone interview. Power is still out in the area, but the headquarters has a generator keeping it operational.
On Wednesday the company's ordering system was still not operational, forcing Padrón to take orders by hand, but by Thursday the system was back online and the company was open for business as usual.
Tobacco grower and broker ASP Enterprises closed last Wednesday in anticipation of the storm and lost power for three and a half days, but is back to normal as of today.
AJ Fernandez was lucky, having been one of the early cigar companies to get power, phone and Internet back. Like Padrón, they were waiting for UPS to resume shipments and have been backlogged getting shipments back out.
"Our building was unaffected by the storm thankfully," said Terence Reilly of Quesada Cigars, which has offices in Doral. "We are simply waiting for power to return. We hope to be up and running shortly."
Padilla Cigars went days without electricity. Nearly half a week in the dark, the company's power was restored earlier this afternoon. "Power is back on," says brand owner Ernesto Padilla. "Power went off Sunday around 3 a.m."
"We are up and running—I'm at the factory now," said Liana Fuente of Arturo Fuente Cigars. "I finished, worked all weekend, got the debris out—we were so lucky." While the company was spared major damage, a tree fell on her brother Alex's car.
Oliva Tobacco Co. is one of the industry's preeminent tobacco growers and leaf brokers, especially in the wrapper department. While most of its operations are in Nicaragua and Ecuador, the company is headquartered in Tampa.
"I’m in Tampa and rode out the storm here at our office," said John Oliva Jr., treasurer of Oliva Tobacco Co. "It’s the old Villazon Cigar Factory. These old Tampa factories were built like brick shit houses and ours has seen every major storm in Tampa since 1905. Other than cosmetic damage it’s gone unscathed. We were very fortunate. No real disruption to the business other than we still haven’t had our internet and phone services restored yet."
Another Tampa staple, the 112-year-old J.C. Newman Cigar Co. factory, also survived Hurricane Irma. According to president Eric Newman, the stately red brick building, which had undergone a complete roof repair job earlier this year, sprung a few leaks, but is otherwise intact.
Newman says that the company began shipping yesterday and "will be working our shipping department 10 hour days and Saturdays until we catch up. We were already running a few days behind in our shipping department trying to wind up the last of our IPCPR orders when we closed early last Friday for Irma." The factory will also work overtime to produce cigars to make up for lost time.
Newman says that he and his brother Bobby met with the entire staff last Friday to let them know that they were closing the building through Monday. The building, though, never lost power, and while the brothers were flirting with the idea of opening on Monday, they opted to remain closed through Tuesday to ensure that their staff was safe and to allow them time to get their personal affairs in order.
"While some are still without power, they were glad to get back to work and to their regular routine yesterday," says Newman. "And for some to get back to air conditioning, which they had lost at home."
Newman added: "The Tampa Bay Area dodged a bullet-no doubt about it... Our hearts goes out to all those in Key West, Marco Island, Naples, Miami, Jacksonville, Charleston and wherever else Irma left her nasty mark. May they receive all the help that the public and private sector of our country can muster to bring the help and assistance that these areas so badly need."
Alec Bradley Cigars went through the storm without damage to the office, but it was still out of business as of Tuesday evening. "No damage at the office but phones and Internet are down, so no way to do any business," says Alan Rubin, who owns the company. "All Alec Bradley staff is safe and unharmed."
Altadis USA, the Florida-based premium cigar division of British tobacco giant Imperial Brands PLC, has been closed since last Thursday. Its headquarters in Fort Lauderdale is still recovering from Irma's fury. "Certainly safety of our employees and families was and is top priority during the storm and the following recovery," says Janelle Rosenfeld, vice president of marketing. "Altadis USA headquarters remain without power and are closed. Altadis USA employees and staff, where possible and if it is safe to do so, are working remotely."
[Update: Additional cigar company responses.]