The cigar industry has lost a true legend today with the passing of Jose Orlando Padron at the age of 91.
Born in 1926 near the Pinar de Rio region of Cuba, his family had been working in the tobacco industry since the 1850s. Under Fidel Castro the family farm was nationalized and like many Cubans, Jose Orlando Padron moved to escape communism. His first spot was Spain, followed by New York and eventually he landed in Miami where an empire would be born.
Like many Cuban Refugees Jose earned $60 every month from government aid offered to Cuban refugees. His first job was as a carpenter after a friend gave him a small hammer that allowed him to raise $600 to start a cigar brand and business in 1964. In the beginning, he sold his cigars for 25 cents, and he focused on the cafeterias in Little Havana producing 200 cigars a day. Once “Old Man Padron” as he was affectionately called in his later years came up with the idea for a Fuma made from Connecticut Broadleaf, complete with a curly head cap that resembled Cuban cigars, it took his company to a new plateau.
Feeling limited due to the long curing process of Connecticut tobacco he would begin using Nicaragua tobacco in 1967 for the very first time after a businessman introduced him to the tobacco and fields of the Jalapa valley. Shortly after the switch to this tobacco he was unable to meet the demand of his customers and moved the company to Esteli, Nicaragua where he would once again run into a country in turmoil.
During the time of the Sandinista rebellion, the first Padron factory was burned to the ground which forced him to find another location in Esteli. At the same time, he opened a factory in Honduras with the uncertainty in Nicaragua. After speaking to a Sandinista official, Padron would return to Nicaragua with a promise of no more problems with his factory.
It wasn’t the end of adversity for him however as the United States put forth an embargo against Nicaragua under President Reagan in 1985. In the 5 days leading up to the enforcement of the embargo, Padron moved as much tobacco and cigars he could to Tampa before he was granted a 6 month extension to move more product into the USA. Once the blockade was lifted in 1990 the company returned to its Nicaraguan operation.
The Padron name will continue to live on as his son Jorge “George” Padron has been overseeing the business in recent years side by side with his father.
One thing is for certain though, the cigar industry in Nicaragua owes a lot of gratitude to Jose Orlando Padron, and cigar smokers will forever speak his name as one of the greatest.