José Orlando Padrón: The Life of a True Cigar Connoisseur

Smoke sifting through the air on a black background.

At the end of last year, cigar connoisseurs from all over the globe were saddened by the news that one of the tobacco industry’s greatest icons, José Orlando Padrón, had passed away. At 91 years of age, Padrón had certainly made his mark in the world of tobacconists and was best known as the founder of Padrón Cigars Inc., which he successfully ran for 53 years. However, he was also described as “a much-loved leader and devoted family man”. Here at Havana House, we wanted to pay tribute to this legendary figure by taking a look back over his life and success.

Born in Cuba in 1926, Padrón spent his childhood growing up on his family’s tobacco farm and was consequently surrounded by tobacco from a very young age. In an interview with Cigar Aficionado in 2014, Padrón described the fond memories he held of the farm and his grandparents, particularly those of his grandfather, who shared his subsequent passion for tobacco smoking.

After spending much of his earlier life in Cuba, Padrón left in 1961 after the nationalisation of several industries (including that of the tobacco industry) took place in his home country. The move awakened the budding entrepreneur in Padrón who, after working a variety of jobs for a short period, moved to Miami to start his own cigar business. In the autumn of 1964, Padrón Cigars Inc. was born. Working with only one roller, Padrón began to create what would later become known as some of the world’s most renowned cigars, initially selling them to local restaurants and bistros. As the word spread about the quality of his products, the demand for his cigars increased and by 1969, 40 rollers had been employed to make up the Padrón workforce.

As sales continued to rise, the need for expansion grew and Padrón began to develop his range of cigars while also searching for new tobacco suppliers. In 1967, he discovered Nicaraguan tobacco and began to use it in his products immediately, captivated by its high quality and rich flavour. Padrón’s love of Nicaraguan tobacco continued and later, in 1970, lead him to build a factory there, which was burnt down in 1978 during the Sandinista revolution. Shortly after, a replacement factory was erected as well as an entirely new one in Honduras, which later served as the main supplier of Padrón cigars to the U.S. while Nicaragua was under embargo. Later, after the trade ban was lifted, the Padrón brand began to grow throughout America and has soared in popularity ever since.

Ultimately, Padrón was admired for being one of the most prominent businessmen in the cigar industry, transforming his once small-time venture into a global brand. However, he was also known for his generosity and altruistic nature. Throughout his life, Padrón made several visits back to Cuba to support a number of political causes and in the 1970s, participated in negotiations that helped to free many prisoners. Although his participation in these political quarrels often resulted in bad publicity for him and his company through protests or attacks on his Miami headquarters, Padrón continued to stand up for what he believed in. Described by his son Jorge as “so much more than just a cigar guy”, Padrón will be remembered by many not only for his innovation but also, for his commitment to justice.

Padrón’s memoir, Memorable Moments in My Life, further demonstrates the various facets of this man’s personality as he gives a detailed and personal commentary of his life. Following his once again charitable wishes, all the proceeds from the book are being donated to the Padrón Family Foundation charity to fund a variety of health and educational activities.

Today, his legacy lives on as his company continues to strive, producing some of the world’s most luxurious cigars and setting the standard for other aspiring connoisseurs. His love for Nicaraguan tobacco continues to shape the business, as do his family members, including his two eldest sons, Orlando and Jorge, both of whom are sure to follow in their father’s footsteps. This truly is the story of one man’s love for Cuban cigars.

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