From Legal Briefs to Tobacco Leaves: Rocky Patel’s Rise in the Cigar World
Rocky Patel is a well-known name in the cigar industry, and since last year, their reputation received an extra boost because Cigar Aficionado selected their sixty-anniversary cigar as number 2 on their top 25 list with an amazing score of 96/100. So, this got me wondering, what’s the history behind Rocky Patel?
Early Years and Career Shift
It all started back in the nineties. As I mentioned in a previous article (History of Perdomo), in the nineties (1993), the cigar industry changed drastically due to an unseen “Cigar Boom.” Rocky Patel, who was working as a lawyer in Los Angeles, was introduced to the wonderful world of cigars by a true friend of his. Immediately, Rocky was fascinated by this amazing product, and he quickly joined the Grand Havana Room in L.A. The Grand Havana Room located in Beverly Hills is a flagship location. Since its inception in April 1995, it has set the standard that High-end cigar clubs are measured by on a national scale. Located at the corner of Dayton Way and Canon Drive in the heart of Beverly Hills, every element of the Grand Havana Room has been designed for the explicit purpose of maximizing the enjoyment of the cigar smoker. Like I said, Rocky was a lawyer, specifically a product liability lawyer. He was no stranger to investing in new businesses, and at the beginning of the Cigar Boom, he was approached with a business plan to manufacture cigars.
Foundation of Indian Tabac Cigar Co.
Rocky decided to invest in this plan together with his business partner Philip Zanghi (Current owner of Indian Motorcycle Cigars) and Indian Tabac was inaugurated. The company got its name from
Philip’s dad who back than owned a motorcycle company. Cigars rolled in Honduras began to flourish on the American market. Rocky felt that it was up to the young companies to come into the marketplace with fresh ideas, bold packaging and fuller cigars. To this day Rocky is a big believer of partnerships, Rocky travels all the time in search for new partners and new ideas.
Highlights from the 1996 RTDA Trade show
Rocky’s first debut was in 1996 at the RTDA trade show in Cincinnati, Ohio. His booth was very popular because the new brands brought fresh ideas and bold packaging to the cigar industry with new blends that hadn’t been for sale yet. Thanks to Patel’s eye-popping packaging, he sold hundreds of his cigars. (To this day, the bands and boxes of Rocky Patel are beautiful, a strategy that sells very well because let’s be fair, the eye also wants something.) Patel had gone against the grain with this bold packaging, and it certainly paid off!
Transition to a Personal Branding approach
In 2006, the Rocky Patel era had arrived. Rocky changed the company’s marketing direction by emphasizing on branding himself. The first step was obvious: changing the company’s name from Indian Tabac Cigar Co. to Rocky Patel Premium Cigars. The first series that he released with his own name slapped on it was the Vintage series. To this day, these great smokes are a flagship of the huge Rocky Patel assortment. Ever since Rocky gave the company a new direction, he has released multiple best-sellers like The Edge, Decade, Fifteenth Anniversary, Royal, Java, and more. The Rocky Patel family today has a few important members like Nish Patel, Nimish Desai and Erik Nording. Nish Patel is the younger sibling of Rocky. Nish is considered to be the “Swiss Army knife” for the company. He has his own Cigar line Nish by rocky Patel. Nimish joined his cousin Rocky in 1999. The company was then known as Indian Tabac Cigar, and he remained with his cousin ever since.
Company Growth and Notable Product Launches
Today, the company has two major factories: The Tavicusa Farm in Nicaragua and the El Paraiso farm in Honduras.
As mentioned earlier, the journey of Rocky Patel started in Honduras. Within a 10-minute drive from the city of Danli, you come upon a massive farm. Impossible to miss! El Paraiso, the mammoth cigar factory, is 120,000 square feet of Patel’s Honduran manufacturing operation. Inside this massive operation, we find brands like Decade, Twentieth Anniversary, Sun Grown, Nording (Nording is a collaboration with a Danish pipe manufacturer Erik Nording), and The Edge that are masterfully rolled there. Inside the factory, we also find a huge fermentation room where large pylons keep pressure on
the tobaccos, an aging room, an inspection room, and a packaging area where all the labels are put on, and the cigars are being put in the right box. The factory houses a whopping 500-person staff that is trained for perfection.
The other cigar factory, Tavicusa, is located in Nicaragua in the heart of Esteli. Patel’s expansion from Honduras to Nicaragua began in 2009 with the opening of TaviCusa (Tabacalera Villa Cuba S.A.).
Together with Amilcar Perez-Castro, Rocky started their first TaviCusa. At that point, almost all his cigars were being made at El Paraiso. TaviCusa started out as a small 3,000 square foot building committed to producing cigars like the Rocky Patel 1961 (nowadays this is a catalogue line), Fifteenth Anniversary, Zen by Nish Patel, and Thunder and Rocky Patel 50. While El Paraiso churned out other brands under the supervision of their respective management teams, Patel had something else in mind for TaviCusa. He wanted to apply original Cuban principles. Each cigar had a double binder, entubado rolling (a special rolling method so that each filler leaf rolls into itself), and a triple cap. Thanks to Amilcar’s experience from Cuba, they were able to create different types of cigars than the ones they were rolling at El Paraiso. By 2010, Tavicusa moved and expanded into something way bigger than a “side project.” Like I said earlier, today’s factory can be found right off the Pan-American Highway just outside Esteli. According to Patel, Perez-Castro still trains all of their rolling employees, so they learn and adopt the house style until it becomes second nature to them. When the larger TaviCusa opened in 2010, it produced 800,000 cigars, which is just a small fraction of its production number today. Just after 3 years, Tavicusa scaled up to 1.5 million cigars a year. Their goal is to produce at least 10,000 cigars each day!
The TaviCusa factory is the greatest achievement in the short history of Rocky Patel. The strength of this factory is that they keep an extensive store of diverse and properly fermented tobacco, and these stocks are always available for experimentation and production. Patel’s inventory of tobaccos includes Jalapa, Esteli, Condega, and Ometepe. Honduran tobacco from the Jamastran Valley, American tobacco leaves from Pennsylvania and Connecticut Broadleaf, Brazilian Mata Fina, Mexican San Andres, Ecuadoran Havana, and even some Panamanian leaves.
According to Patel, the leaf needs to be clean and fermented. You’d be surprised how many leaves are rushed out and put into cigars while they are still too raw. Taking the time to sit on a leaf and ferment it the right way costs a lot of money in storage, but it’s the only way that they can ensure quality leaves for their cigars. Rocky Patel even has their A.L.R series (Aged, Limited, and Rare) where they age the cigar when it’s finished for at least an extra 2 years! (This is an extra aging step after the leaves have already aged for some years.)
Rocky prefers using dark wrappers because he feels they are aesthetically more pleasing. When the wrappers are dark and oily, they remind us of dark chocolate. When he uses Ecuadorian Havana leaves, they need at least 5 years of aging, Sumatra leaves (which are his favourite) require 7 years. When you go into higher priming’s, there is a lot less yield.
Celebrating Achievements and Accolades
Thanks to TaviCusa, Patel’s name is a standard on Cigar Aficionado’s top 25 list. Here are some of their ratings he won over the last couple of years:
2004: Number 22 with Rocky Patel Vintage 1990 Robusto
2006: Number 16 with Rocky Patel Vintage 1990 Torpedo 2007: Number 24 with The Edge Sumatra Toro
2008: Number 15 with Rocky Patel Decade Torpedo
2009: Number 8 with Rocky Patel Old World Reserve Maduro 2010 Number 19 with Rocky Patel Fifteenth Anniversary 2011: Number 6 with Rocky Patel Fifteenth Anniversary 2012: Number 8 with Rocky Patel Fifty Robusto
2013: Number 18 with Rocky Patel Fifteenth Anniversary 2014: Number 5 with Rocky Patel Royale Toro
2015: Number 7 with The Edge Habano Torpedo 2016: Number 2 with Rocky Patel Sun Grown Maduro
2017: Number 16 with Rocky Patel Vintage Cameroon Churchill 2018: Number 20 with Rocky Patel Fifteenth Anniversary
2019: Number 5 with A.L.R Second skin
2021: Number 9 with Rocky Patel Grand Reserva (one of my favourites) 2022: Number 2 with Rocky Patel Sixty-Sixty
2023: Number 4 with A.L.R second edition
As a final note to this article, I encourage you to explore the huge assortment of Rocky Patel Premium Cigars. Thanks to their unique blends, skilled personnel, and the time they give to age their tobacco leaves, they ensure you a pleasant smoke full of flavours. Recent releases like the Rocky Patel 20th anniversary, The Edge, are already best-sellers in every cigar shop that has them in stock. I hope you gained knowledge about where the company came from and what they do today.
Article written by Magdeleyns Lukas