Written by Puff Staff

Wednesday, 12 March 2003

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industry updatespadron
Top25Cigar contributor Rob Shibata spends a Saturday morning with the Padrons and finds out that one of the cigar industries leading families is truly that...a family. Miami, Florida. Home to the Dolphins, Heat, and Marlins. Home to South Beach, Coconut Grove, and Miami Beach. Home to car, boat, and dog racing. Home also to Little Havana and the Cuban expatriates who live there. Home to the U.S. offices of Padron Cigars. It all began when I met the affable and easygoing Orlando Padron at CA’s big smoke in Las Vegas. We struck up a conversation that ranged from cigars to family businesses and laughed about the similarities between family businesses regardless of the industry. We exchanged cards and agreed to send each other samples of our respective company’s products. He would send me cigars and I would send him flowers from our greenhouses. I called Padron’s office the day after shipping the flowers to make sure they had arrived in good condition. Orlando wasn’t in the office, but whoever took the message thought it was hilarious that a guy from California had sent Orlando flowers! Nearly a year later, I was in Miami on business and decided to see if I could visit some of the cigar companies in Little Havana. There are many, some better known than others. I made three morning appointments and Padron’s was at the top of my list. I called Padron’s office and ended up talking to Jorge (George) Padron. He said my fellow travelers and I were welcome to stop by so we planned on Saturday morning. We arrived in Little Havana about 9 am. I was looking for a marble faced building with the Padron name above the front door in big gold letters. Instead, we found a very unassuming building that blended in with the other storefronts on the street. The Padron name was neatly printed on the street side of the building. My three companions followed as I walked in and waited at the counter immediately inside the front door. We could see directly into the small, open office area immediately behind the counter. There was a young man sitting at one desk and an older gentleman at the other. The younger one was dressed in a T-shirt and shorts and addressed us as he approached the counter. “Can I help you?” he asked with an inquiring expression. ”We’re here to see Orlando or Jorge and visit your facility.” I said. He looked at us a little puzzled. “I called yesterday and made an appointment with Jorge.” The young man broke into a big grin and said, “Oh yes, I’m Jorge. You can call me George. Welcome to Padron’s.” We introduced ourselves individually and thanked him for letting us stop by to meet them. George motioned for us to come into the office area and sit down. He introduced us to the older man at the other desk, his father Jose Padron--“The” Jose Padron. As we shook hands, I could hardly believe that one of the top cigar makers in the world would be so approachable. At that moment, George’s brother Orlando appeared and greeted us. “Oh, the flower guy!” Everybody burst out laughing and talked excitedly as Orlando translated the story to his father. I began by telling George what I knew about Padron cigars and about my experience smoking them. I did this intentionally as a way to educate my friends a little about Padron cigars. George could see that I was a big fan of his cigars. As we talked, he interjected comments about the cigars, the manufacturing process, tobacco, and quality. When the conversation lapsed for a moment, George stood up and asked with a deadpan expression, “Hey, any of you guys like to smoke cigars?” The four of us excitedly exchanged glances with each other like kids on Christmas morning. We responded with a chorus of “Yes!” George spoke one or two sentences in Spanish to his father who, in turn, opened one of the drawers of his desk and produced a handful of long, dark bandless cigars. “Definitely Anniversario,” I thought to myself. Orlando held up one of the cigars and announced “The Padron Millennium Anniversario, have you guys heard of these cigars?” I quickly responded “Yeah, Millenniums are $30 apiece retail and impossible to find!” Orlando smiled and nodded his head approvingly as he exclaimed, “Okay…. See….These guys know what's going on….” My friends weren’t quite sure what had just happened, but if the Padrons were smiling and handing out $30 cigars, that was a good thing. As we inspected our prized gifts, Orlando said, “Actually these are seconds. They have small cosmetic defects so we couldn’t ship them. They smoke fine, but don’t look perfect.” We all inspected the dark, smooth cigars looking at them closely. George came over and pointed out a tiny, almost imperceptible fold in the cap of my cigar. Grinning, George quipped “Not bad for seconds eh?”. We all joked that we had seen first grade cigars that looked… and smoked, much worse. With a wry smile, George said, “These are what we smoke.” The elder Padron pointed to his unlit cigar and uttered a phrase in Spanish. As the elder Padron finished, George translated, “My dad says every cigar must be perfect.” We lit our cigars and sat down in front of George and Jose. Over the next hour, the conversation moved quickly but comfortably as we peppered George with questions about their family history, tobacco production, business philosophy and, of course, their cigars. As George answered, he took the opportunity to expand the scope of each question to include related topics. When we asked about tobacco aging, he stressed the importance of the tobacco quality that you start with, then described the aging process. When we inquired about cigar production he cautioned us about looking only at production numbers. He emphasized the relationship of production numbers relative to the work quality and training of the rollers. Production numbers were meaningful only if the quality of the finished product was maintained. I later realized that George was educating us beyond the narrow scope of our questions. He showed us that producing a great cigar was more than a business for the Padrons. It was a passion. This family had a passion to control all the details in each step of making a great cigar. The elder Padron sat behind his desk slowly smoking his cigar, nodding occasionally as if to approve George’s points. Orlando re-appeared from the back and asked if we wanted to see some pictures of the farms and tobacco production. Without a thought we were on our feet following Orlando to a back office area. The vintage office was a contrast to the high tech equipment that filled it. Orlando opened dozens of digital photographs and videos on his massive computer system. He showed us pictures of tobacco seedling production and tobacco harvesting, processing and aging. At this point Jose Padron took an active part in the discussion, becoming very animated and rattling off directives to Orlando in Spanish. George and Orlando responded quickly to their father, moving from image to image, zooming in on photos of the elder Padron’s choosing. George could barely keep pace with his father, trying to translate detailed explanations of each photo as the elder Padron spoke. I could see that tobacco, from beginning to end, was indeed a passion with Jose Padron. His eyes sparkled and his voice grew excited as he took us on a personal virtual tour of the Padron farms and production facilities in Nicaragua. As we neared the end of our digital tour of the Padron cigar factory, the elder Padron smiled proudly. He pulled out another handful of Millennium Anniversarios from his shirt pocket and passed them out to us as he shook our hands or patted us on the back. Jose Padron was clearly a proud father of both his sons and his cigars. “It doesn’t get any better than this,” I thought to myself. George turned to me and asked “Well? What do you think of Padron?” “Unbelievable. You guys control every step from tobacco seedling to the final product!” I exclaimed. “The cigars are the real proof,” said George as he held up his Millennium. Jokingly I said “Too bad I can’t get any Anniversarios where I’m located.” “You can’t get them?” George asked with a pained look on his face? “Availability is very limited. I’d never even smoked one until today,” I sheepishly admitted. George led us into another room. Towards the back, the elder Padron was now seated around a table with a group of men his own age conversing in his native tongue. “That is the Saturday morning crowd,” George said as he gestured towards the group. “These are my dad’s Cuban friends. They’ve been coming over every Saturday morning for the last 30 years. They talk, drink Cuban coffee and tell stories,” he said with a smile. George turned our attention to an area of the room where, against one wall, about 60 or 70 boxes of cigars were shelved. “This is my entire inventory of Anniversarios.” he said flatly. “For the entire United States?” I asked half joking. “For the world!” answered George. “You’re kidding” I exclaimed in disbelief. “It’s true” George answered. We were all pretty shocked. “We know we could sell a lot more Anniversarios. Especially during the cigar boom, but we refused to sacrifice quality for more sales. Do you know how many rollers we have making Anniversarios?” he asked. I had no idea and shrugged my shoulders. On a rare serious note in our conversation, George said “One. We have one roller--our best roller--to make the Anniversario line. Then the cigars are shipped to the U.S. in bundles and re-inspected here before they are boxed. Every cigar must be perfect in order to be called an Anniversario.” We were all a little stunned as we looked at George, each other, the boxes of Anniversarios against the wall, and back at George. “The cigars are re-inspected?” one of my cohorts asked in disbelief. “No wonder they’re so hard to get,” I said aloud to myself as I looked at George. “We won’t compromise on quality,” he said with a stern expression. Then he broke into his signature grin and said, “But since you guys are here, I think we can do a little something for you.” With that, he allowed us each to pick out a couple of the wondrous smokes and said, “Now how many flowers will that get me?” “A lot!” we all said laughing. “Just tell us when and where to ship them, and we’ll take care of you!” I said gratefully. We moved into the same area of the office where we had begun our conversation over three hours earlier. Jose Padron noticed we were moving towards the front door and came out to say goodbye. I noticed a photo gallery of famous cigar smokers such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, on the office wall. All of the photographs were autographed. “How about taking a picture?” I asked. We quickly assembled and one of the “Saturday morning crowd” snapped off a few shots with my camera. As we shook hands and exchanged goodbyes, we filed out the front door one by one. Once in the car, we all paused for a moment, then suddenly looked at each other and started laughing and recounting the highlights of the visit. We missed our other cigar appointments that morning, but no one seemed to mind. As we drove through Little Havana, we basked in the enjoyment we had gotten from the visit with the Padrons. We had been given a personal tour by a cigar industry icon and met a family with a passion for cigars: Jose Padron and his sons Orlando and George. I will long remember my Saturday morning at Padrons. And we did send the flowers… lots of them!

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