Ernesto Padilla Interview, Part I
Over the last year we have had the great pleasure of sitting down with some of the biggest names in the industry. Usually we are talking with them about their upcoming lines and views on the industry, but imagine our excitement when we got to sit down with the man who single handedly wiped out his portfolio in one fell swoop. Ernesto Padilla is probably going to be one of the most watched and talked about individuals this year due to his radical move to cut his lines in mid stream and refocus his company down a different path.
Guts is what it took and we will hear from Ernesto in the interview about this radical transition and why he thought it was necessary to do it. So join with us as we talk with Ernesto Padilla of Padilla Cigars.
Cigar Brief: Let’s start off with our first question, what do you see the role of your company being in the current marketplace?
Ernesto Padilla: I think our role is to continue to do what we’ve always done, and that is to create a flavor profile that’s in line with who we are, and our history, which is traditional Cuban cigar making, and everything from how the cigars are rolled to how tobacco is processed, to the seeds that we use is very much in the Cuban tradition.
As far as my role? I just try to make cigars that I enjoy and that are high quality. They’ve been highly rated, and we have used different manufacturers throughout the years.
There’s always a standard that I seek and work for, and so I guess in summary we continue to build on what we’ve done, which is traditional cigar making. That’s pretty much it. Traditional Cuban cigar making.
Let me also say this. Even though I’m a young guy: I was born in Cuba and left when I was six years old, my family were tobacco growers in Cuba, and I still work with Cubans now to make my cigars. So, my main goal moving forward is to create products which are unique and have that Cuban flair, but are more for the cigar connoisseur, who has been smoking for a little bit of time. We’re also going to do things for the guy who is getting into the business so he can appreciate what makes a boutique cigar like ours different.
For me, it’s not just about blowing smoke, and it’s not just about strength. It’s also about creating a full experience and a well-balanced product.
Cigar Brief: One of the interesting things about your story is that you recently did a reset on your company and got rid of many of your old lines. With your impending re-launch at the IPCPR what are some of the differences between your old company and your new vision?
Ernesto Padilla: I think we needed to refocus and start fresh. What we’ve done is eliminated the Dominus, the Artemis, the Cazadores, and the Series ’68, plus a few more. Basically, they have all gone away.
The replacement is tiered, meaning first we’re making two special batches made in Miami at El Titan de Bronze, which I have worked with for quite some time, and I helped them get some special bails of tobacco from my contacts. They’re going to be making a new brand called Invictus, and it’s all in 54 ring gauge, three sizes robusto 5 by 54, a 6 by 54, and torpedo 6.5 by 54. Then there is also in the same sizes in other premium line and we’re calling that the Miami Maduro.
The whole line gets a new look. People have seen the line, and really liked it, and made it my showcase line, my premium brand. The line is going to have a more uniform look. These cigars are expensive because they’re made in Miami.
That’s not the only reason they’re expensive. The rollers only make 100 cigars a day, and they’re made in the Cuban entubado method. I don’t know if I can explain that in an interview, but that makes a big difference, not only when you draw the cigar, but the flavor of the cigars
All the different components marry inside the cigar. They’re mounted, triple-capped, which we have always had on my cigars since we started. You know, the Miami and the 8/11. So, the construction is 100 percent Cuban. The people at El Titan de Bronze worked at El Laguito, they worked at Partagas in Cuba.
And Sandra Cobas, she runs the El Titan de Bronze factory. She’s very strict on quality control. I’m also there probably every other day, you know, looking at the batches, how they age. The Miami Maduro and the Padilla. By the way, if I forget to mention there will only be a 100 accounts that are going to get them.
It’s meant to be a very custom project, meaning we’re going to be doing it in batches. I want to make sure that the time we give them is enough, a minimum of 60 days, but honestly we will really only release them when I feel the cigars are ready to be released.
The first round of the Invictus was only 300 boxes, and the same with the Miami Maduro.
Now, the other companies we’ve worked with in the past and who I have close relationships with and a friendship with, is Oliva Cigar Company, and we did a joint project called the Padilla Studio Tabac which ran a ’93 in Cigar Aficionado. This new cigar we are doing with them is going to come in four sizes, and it’s going to reach between $8.50 to $10.00 without local taxes.
So, depending where you are, that will vary, but it’s going to be four sizes: a 4×60, a 6×60, a 5-¾x60, and a 6-¼x54 torpedo, and the same with what we call the Padilla Reserva. Those same sizes are going to have a Maduro as well.
This is a really nice cigar that Oliva did. They grow great Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, and they also grow some great filler tobacco in Nicaragua. So, I was able to really work with a company that’s not making very private labels for anyone. It’s a very focused production, and it’s going to come in 20-count boxes, and the retail will be anywhere from $8.50 to $10.00. It’s a medium body blend, very flavorful, very complex, and comes with the quality that Oliva is known for.
A step below that is going to be the Padilla La Terraza, which we currently have, and is $5.00 to $6.50. We have a Habano and Maduro and now we’re going to be releasing it in a Connecticut. That’s been a very successful line for us. That was probably one of the most challenging lines to make because I’ve always made premium cigars, and still this is a $5.00 cigar.
La Terraza has really taken off for us, and is doing very well, and we wanted to expand distribution on that. What it has done is it has allowed people to realize, “Wow, they make a good $5.00 cigar.” And now they will go on to try the Reserva and then the Miami made stuff.
So, that’s the three tiered approach we’re taking about. We’re going to expand on some of the lines further once we get going, but that’s going to be the foundation. We’re not going to be just so disjointed. The work of the brand is going to be cohesive, except for the La Terazza, which has a little bit of a different band in the line, which people will come to recognize. That’s the new Padilla lineup.
Cigar Brief: Okay, now, just for clarification, the project you’re doing with Oliva, is different than your Studio Tobac project?
Ernesto Padilla: Yes, we’re distributing it. The Studio Tobac project, the figurado was a special blend for that. It’s a limited edition. We might come back and do that again. It was very successful, but right now, this is a slightly different blend, and it’s going to be distributed by Padilla in the United States.
Cigar Brief: If you don’t mind, can you rewind and explain the way you guys roll cigars and the difference in your style (entubado) versus some of the other main ones?
Ernesto Padilla: In South America, you have certain factories, which will make between 50,000 and 100,000 cigars a day. In order to do that with a handmade product, you have to labor a little bit. Basically the assembly line model.
There are some benefits, which are that you can make more cigars, and there are some drawbacks to that. It’s hard to really explain all the things that can go wrong when you’re when a roller is making 400 to 500 cigars a day, but there’s a lot that can go south.
I really believe if you’re making a very super premium cigar, the maximum you want to do is about 100 to 120 cigars a day. What they do in Nicaragua is they work in pairs. One of them will bunch, and one of them will do the wrapper. That allows you to do more cigars.
Cubans don’t work that way. People say, “Well, it benefits to have two.” But for me there is no benefit. I prefer not working in pairs. Another thing they do is they bunch the cigars with what’s called a base, and a base is a binder leaf or viso leaf.
In a cigar, you have several components that come up: the wrapper, the binder. In our case, we use two binders and then the filler, depending on what kind of filler you’re making, like ligero, viso, and things like that.
So, what they do is they almost – they take a leaf, and they call it a base, and they start building upon that. Okay, but that extra leaf affects the flavor profile, sometimes construction of the cigar. Some people say it makes the cigar less lumpy, and this, that and whatever. But then when you start getting into the cigar construction and how a cigar interacts with its air channels, then you realize it’s the subtle differences that make the cigar different.
I’d have to show you. I can’t really find the words to explain it to you. Also, another thing they do is how they fill the body. In the Cuban cigar world, you know the whole component of that cigar. Its like some mechanics who just specialize in the transmission or the engine, and things like that.
Cubans understand the whole mechanics of the vehicle. They understand all the mechanics of a cigar. They understand what it takes, and they’re responsible for that whole cigar.
They have accountability for that whole cigar. Well, you don’t have that oftentimes in South and Central American countries. You can say, “Okay, the boxer did this.” Well, you can say by the time the boxer gets – the person gets the wrapper, the cigar should be at this weight, and if it’s not, they can reject that cigar.
The Cuban way has its drawbacks also, but I can tell you the cigars you’re smoking from Cuba today that have quality control issues have more to do with the political climate in Cuba and the motivation for the worker, for what little money he does make in Cuba. That’s the issue that you have; when there are issues with Cuban cigars.
You’re talking about the totalitarian Communist system, where people are not incentivized in any way to make a better product. There’s some great cigars coming out of Nicaragua. Don’t get me wrong. They use other methods, but there are factories down there that use what’s called a Lieberman machine, which is almost like a big roll-your-own cigarette machine.
You put the filler in them, and you squeeze it together. I’m trying to describe it. That shifts the tobacco inside. If you shift the ligero, which is the slowest burning part, you could start seeing the cigar canoe on you.
So, there are things that are done there that really facilitate the ability to make a pseudo handmade product, with some machinery or assistance, which is what I stay away from. Factories that use that I stay away from, but that’s your main difference.
Look a Ferrari has a great engine, it has a great transmission, but the leather inside is also great. The stitching inside is also great. The detail is also great, and the whole package, from the engine to the selection of leather to the stitching are all high grade materials, and high performance parts.
That’s the way I look at my cigars. You know, how we manufactured them is an extremely important component of what the end result should be. So, I don’t know if I confused people more than anything, but there’s a reason why the country that’s synonymous with cigars is Cuba.
Cigar Brief: It seems you’re economically minded in providing cigar connoisseurs with reasonable price points. What’s your goal when pricing your cigars?
Ernesto Padilla: We definitely introduced the La Terazza with that segment in mind, to take a look at the style, if you will, of a different price point. That was definitely one of the hardest cigars to make because the volume is higher. You want to keep the consistency and the quality of the cigar high, but at the same time you have to keep that lower price point.
I didn’t want to release a cigar for $5.00 just to release one at that price point and I’m actually here today with the manufacturer at that great factory. All the cigars are just really – the best. The best compliment one of those cigars can get is that this is a “$5.00 cigar that could go for $8.00.” And really, that was my goal. I think we hit it and have maintained it.
Cigar Brief: We talked a little bit the other day about the online marketplace versus the brick and mortar store. I was hoping you would share some more about your transition from the online retailer to the brick and mortars, and what your thoughts about those markets are.
Ernesto Padilla: Well, for us, choosing online was a perfect storm of so many things coming together. It was the economy and things like that. We did do quite a bit of business with Cigars International, which we have now turned away. It doesn’t mean we won’t do something for CI, but we’re definitely trying to restructure the brand, where there’s the Padilla stuff that you get in the store, and there’s a couple things like what we do with Thompson.
Thompson is a great company to work with. Bob, the owner, is an old school guy, and their strategy is different. They don’t just blow things out, they really are quite fair in their price structure. So, we created a project for them called the Padilla Legacy, a Maduro Connecticut, and corojo wrapper. It retails for about $5.00, or a little less.
It’s a great value smoke that gives the catalogs the ability to not butt heads with the brick and mortar and creates different avenues for distribution for us. But definitely our number one goal that we have is to increase our presence for the brick and mortar, and it’s not just by selling but by creating product that they’ve asked for. You know, price protected product.
We always had good quality cigars, even the stuff that we have sold at a discounted rate. The one thing I always was striving for was to make sure that we maintained that quality. But times have changed. Our company is heading in a different direction, and the direction is to create brand-specific product for brick and mortars, and to create specific things for the catalog, but you’re not going to be seeing the presence in the catalogs that you did at one point.
So if you see them seek them out. It’s something where our brands have been around a while, so make up your own mind about the new lines, and keep an open mind towards them.
This ends part one of our interview with Ernesto, but stay tuned for part II as we talk with Ernesto about social media, the FDA, and why he has never gone after obtaining his own factory.