When the Regensburg cigar factory was built 109 years ago in Tampa’s Ybor City neighborhood, it was hailed as one of the largest and most modern cigar factories at the time. For 43 years, factory workers made cigars inside while the factory’s handsome clock helped locals schedule their day. In 1953, J.C. Newman Cigar Co. (which was known then as M&N Cigar) bought the factory, also known as El Reloj, Spanish for “the clock.” The company has been making both handmade cigars and cigars rolled via ancient, hand-operated machines there ever since.
Recently, J.C. Newman broke ground on the factory’s most ambitious renovation project: a multimillion dollar expansion that will improve the company’s shipping and receiving logistics, update the building’s aging infrastructure, create a new handmade cigar production space and, if all goes according to plan, transform the factory into a premier cigar tourist destination. The idea is to complete the renovations by January 2020, in time for the company’s 125th anniversary.
“We want [the factory] to stand for another 109 years,” said Drew Newman, general counsel for J.C. Newman and the grandson of Stanford Newman, the late company patriarch who originally purchased the Tampa factory. Drew represents the fourth-generation of Newmans involved in the family business (his father, Eric, and uncle Bobby run the company today).
The renovation of El Reloj began in March and should be finished some time in May. “Phase One” of the rebuild is focused on overhauling the shipping and receiving area of the factory. According to Newman, the renovation will boost efficiency of all the cigar products the company receives and then distributes.
J.C. Newman owns and operates a factory in Estelí, Nicaragua called Puros de Esteli Nicaragua, S.A., or PENSA, which recently changed its named to J.C. Newman PENSA. The Nicaraguan factory rolls such handmade cigar brands as Brick House, Perla del Mar and El Baton. After being rolled, these cigars are then shipped to the El Reloj factory, where they are received and then sent out to cigar shops. Additionally, J.C. Newman receives and distributes cigars from the Arturo Fuente Cigar Co.
“Phase Two” of the renovation, which is scheduled to begin in June, is much more intricate, and will begin with an update of the building’s infrastructure. This includes replacing the entrance steps, fixing columns and floors, updating electrical and HVAC systems, renovating bathrooms and installing a new fire-protection system.
At the same time, builders will also be constructing a brand new rolling gallery. The new handmade cigar production space will include room for a dozen rollers, aging rooms and tobacco storage. According to Newman, the company plans to even have a raised podium for a lector to read to the rollers, just like cigar factories used to do in the old days.
In the new rolling gallery, Newman plans to make The American, a cigar brand set to debut later this year that is crafted entirely out of tobaccos grown in the United States.
Newman, though, has grander plans for the factory. “We want to be the cigar tourist destination in the United States,” he says. “We are hoping to create something that will be on every cigar lover’s bucket list.”
To improve the visitor’s experience, Newman took inspiration from craft breweries and craft distillery tours. Rather than keep the art of cigarmaking a secret, Newman is banking on transparency to boost visitor interest. The plan is to expand and upgrade the factory’s cigar museum, organize factory tours and hosting blending and rolling classes for tourists. In other words, guests will be able to view the entire cigarmaking process.
When everything is complete, Newman expects up to 1,000 visitors per week to the factory.