Other than football (soccer) players, Padron cigars are probably the most famous thing ever to come out of Nicaragua. And unlike a lot of top-quality cigars, they’re not famous only because they’re good (though they certainly are). They’re famous because they’re reasonably-enough priced to smoke plenty of them... not something you could usually say about a cigar you’d actually want to smoke.
The History of Padron
You’ll have to excuse me for being all artsy-fartsy for a moment, but... researching the history of cigars has brought me to the conclusion that the cigar craft truly is an art form. Each brand is made up of its techniques, its tobacco, and its (often tumultuous) history. Padron Cigars has an especially interesting history... a history which really does seem to reflect in their cigars.
While the brand itself wasn’t created until the 1960s, the Padron family has been a part of the tobacco industry for well over 100 years. The founder of Padron Cigars, Jose Orlando Padron, was born on a tobacco plantation in Cuba - I wouldn’t be surprised to hear him claim he was laid in a crib made of the stuff. And while he left Cuba in 1961 (a couple of years after the Revolution), he brought his knowledge of and passion for Cuban cigars with him to Miami, Florida.
But passion only gets you so far - a lesson that Jose quickly learned. As a Cuban refugee in Miami, life was hard for Padron. He received $60 monthly in government aid, and was only able to find work sporadically. And while many men might have given up in his place and decided to be, say, a professional tequila-drinker, Jose Orlando saved all he could. And when he had $600 saved up, he started Padron Cigars in Miami in 1964.
Imagine starting a multi-million dollar company like Padron with 600 bucks. But Jose made it happen.
It might be easy to say “that was that,” but unfortunately it wasn’t. Much of Central and South America was (and still is) a volatile place, and things were never easy for Padron. The company moved back and forth from Nicaragua to Honduras for years, with warehouses and factories being burned down and bombed along the way. Padron was even boycotted in the U.S. in the early 1980s because of its ties to Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
To be fair, Jose Orlando Padron claims to this day that he had no relationship with Castro. What sparked the boycott was Castro asking Padron for a sample of his cigars - and the photo that was taken of Jose Orlando handing Castro a Padron cigar. When the photo was published in a Miami newspaper, anti-Castro activists (okay, they were actually extremists) encouraged a boycott of his company and actually bombed four of his factories.
Fire, flood, boycott, bombing. Through plenty of turmoil the brand survived… and flourished. Today the company is still run by the Padron family (namely, Jose Orlando’s children and grandchildren), and a Padron Cigar has (arguably) become the best Nicaraguan cigar on the market today.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?
Are you curious to know what Castro thought of the cigar Padron gave him as a friendly sample? While Castro insisted (and still does, I’m sure) that his own tobacco would always be his favorite, he told Padron that it was a good cigar - and even congratulated him for producing it. Not bad praise from a hard-a** communist dictator, eh?
Photo credit : Padron website