Cigar Industry Legends – Jose Padron

Industry legend Jose Orlando Padron. Every industry has legends. Some unsung heroes, some famous names. A few names that will remain in everybody’s memories forever, most will fade away over time. Some that have left us, some still alive. These legends all played their part to make the cigar industry what it is today. And they deserve to be remembered, to be recognized for their achievements.

And when you make a list of legendary cigar people, Jose Orlando Padron can’t be missing. The Padron name is now a staple in the cigar industry and many consider the brand the flagship of the Nicaraguan cigar industry. Where Cohiba is seen as the best that Cuba can bring, Fuente is seen as the absolute top of the Dominican Republic, Padron is the equivalent for these brands in Nicaragua. Padron was the first #1 cigar of the year for Cigar Aficionado in 2004 and has won that title again in 2007, and 2009. No other cigar company has 3 of these awards, except Padron. And that’s without counting the many other top 10 spots on the list of lists.

Cuban Heritage

Padron is born in Cuba in 1926, in a tobacco-growing family. In Consolación del Sur, Pinar del Río. In older interviews, Padron would tell that in his grandparents’ house, they had a small table. At that table, they were rolling cigars for the family from the tobacco that they grew. In an interview with Cigar Aficionado, he once said “Two things they were never without—wine and cigars. As a young boy, I saw that in my house. My grandfather every day would wake up, and every time I saw him he was looking at a cigar. Rolling it in his hand. Always touching tobacco.”

After the revolution, the Castro clan started to steal factories, plantations, and other businesses under the name of nationalization. And they started their reign of terror. Padron by that time was a was the general manager of the manganese mine called Charco Redondo in the southern area of the island. When the revolutionaries came to take away one of his workers, Padron refused and said “take me instead”. By standing up against the revolutionaries, he would paint a bullseye on his back. It wasn’t the first time Padron defended his workers, he did it before the revolution as well when the Batista regime went for the miners. Realizing things would not get better, only worse, Padron fled to Spain. And went from Spain to America. Upon his arrival in Miami, Padron got a little hammer

By working carpentry he would make enough money to start Padron Cigars in 1964. That little hammer is used in the Padron logo, in the name of one of the Family Reserve cigars (Padron 1926 Little Hammer #46 Family Reserve). If you ever find yourself at the Padron headquarters in the Cuban district of Miami, you can see the little hammer on display.

Nicaragua

Four years after the start of Padron Cigars, Jose Padron got his hands on Nicaraguan tobacco. And it was love at first taste. So much, that Padron opened a cigar factory in Esteli just a few years later. But in 1978 disaster hit. The civil war was pending, and Padron was contemplating moving the factory to Costa Rica. While in Costa Rica, he got a call from one of his loyal employees, Caesar Gadea Sr. The factory and warehouse in Esteli were set on fire by the Sandinista. The Padron factory was one of 18 buildings burned down that day. Cesar Gadea Jr is also working for Padron, up to this day. Just a month later Padron set up shop in a small building he rented, with tobaccos he stored in other warehouses. Ceasar Gadea Sr. is living in Esteli now, enjoying his retirement.

After the Sandinistas took over Nicaragua, Padron managed to get a lot of tobacco out of Nicaragua. As producing cigars was too dangerous, he set up shop in Honduras. But thanks to the involvement of some loyal employees, Padron was able to go to Nicaragua and sit down with the Sandinistas. They guaranteed him safety and access to raw material. With that, his workers in Esteli would still produce cigars and get paid. Until the USA, under President Reagan, declared an embargo. Padron had 5 months to get all of his possessions out of the country. Everybody was working day and night and Padron walked out with little less than 5 million cigars.

Jose Orlando Padron in Nicaragua, 1965 (photo credit: Padron Cigars)

Padron still made cigars in Miami, and in Honduras. But only with the Nicaraguan tobacco, he was able to take out before the embargo. To stretch his stock, production went from 6 million cigars a year to 2 million cigars a year. Padron was clear, he didn’t want the blends to change and he didn’t want to use Honduran tobacco. A brave decision. After the embargo ended, Padron went back to Nicaragua and reopened the factory. But up until today, Padron limits the number of cigars they produce to ensure quality that is up to the family standards. Only 5 million Padron cigars come off the rolling tables every year.

More Than Tobacco

But there is more than just tobacco to Jose Orlando Padron. The man had a life worthy of a Hollywood movie. Kidnapping attempts in Honduras, attacks on the Padron HQ in Miami including an assault with a bomb, plus attempts to kill him. The attacks and assassination attempts had everything to do with humanitarian missions to Cuba. Padron was part of a team that traveled to Cuba to negotiate the release of political prisoners. At one point Castro said, “I hear you’re making cigars in America, can I try one”. Padron gave Castro a cigar and that moment was captured on camera. It created outrage, Padron was suddenly a communist to the public eye. The results were protests, attacks, and assassination attempts. But Padron always said, “We got so many political prisoners out, it was worth it”.

Another passion of Jose Orlando Padron and the rest of the Padron family is giving back. The family has a foundation that focuses on health and education. When asked how Padron would want to be remembered, he always said “As someone who has helped others. What I’ve had I’ve shared with other people, with my family.” Jose Orlando Padron was a great man, and later this year a special cigar will be released in his memory. Carlito Fuente from Arturo Fuente is creating a cigar dedicated to Jose Orlando Padron, while Jorge Padron is creating a cigar dedicated to Carlos Fuente Sr. An honor to two legendary cigar manufacturers, by their sons who are also legends in the industry.

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