born during the 1990s that are still thriving today is a fairly low number. Those ambitious few that set their sites on creating their own operations from scratch - complete with farming, curing, cigar rolling, and even box making operations - can practically be counted on one hand. For 42-year-old Nick Perdomo, president of Tabacalera Perdomo of Miami Lakes, Fla., this success is perhaps even more impressive, having tapped his family’s experience in tobacco to build an entire business from the ground up and establish himself as a significant player in the rarefied world of premium cigars. Smoke contributing editor Gary Artz met up with Perdomo at his Florida office to reflect upon 15 years of growth.- Editor
SMOKE: What prompted you to get into the cigar business?
PERDOMO: I was actually working for the Federal Aviation Administration as an air traffic controller. I had just gotten married and I wanted to supplement my income. I love cigars. My father was in the industry, my grandfather was in the industry, my uncle Tony was in the industry, and my grandfather’s brother was Administer of Tobacco in Cuba for 43 years. I kind of grew up with this all my life.
SMOKE: But you were the first in your family to launch your own company.
PERDOMO: My startup was meager to say the least. In my first year, I sold 9,400 cigars and I was pretty proud of myself. But I was blessed in the sense that I had a lot of help from my family, especially from my father, and that is what helped me to grow.
SMOKE: In the beginning, all of your cigars were made in Miami?
PERDOMO: I opened up another facility in 1995 in Ybor City in Tampa which I kept for two years. By 1997, we were having a tough time; we were selling every cigar that we could make, but we were making cigars in the United States and trying to compete with the Dominican Republic and Honduras and keep the same pricing. But of course, my labor costs were about 300% higher than their’s. In the summer of 1997 my father went to Nicaragua and opened up our facility there. It was the best move we ever made.
|Perdomo's two new releases: Perdomo Habano and Lot 23
SMOKE: Considering the prominence of Dominican cigars at the time,
why did you choose Nicaragua?
PERDOMO: We went to the Dominican Republic in the early part of 1996 and I saw the lack of available workforce. I was not the biggest Dominican tobacco fan, to be honest with you. I like rich cigars, and when I started out, the market was largely shade wrapper with Dominican, Honduran, and Ecuadoran filler and binder. To me, there were very similar taste profiles among a lot of different cigars. I didn’t enjoy them.
SMOKE: So your vision was to create a specific style of cigar?
PERDOMO: I thought that we were kind of innovative. When we first started, we were buying a lot of tobacco from Ecuador with Sumatra seeds which were darker and a more heavy type tobacco with the blend of Dominican, Honduran, and a little bit of Nicaraguan tobacco that we could get in our blends. And we were making relatively full-bodied cigars. A lot of people said, “Your cigars are way too rich.” And I would say, “Don’t worry people are going to gravitate to that taste.”
SMOKE: Were you one of those “I do everything” guys in the beginning?
PERDOMO: Absolutely. My wife Janine and I really ran everything, and it was tough. She was very influential in helping me in my business, and is still with me to this day.
SMOKE: Actually, you have a lot of family working with you, don’t you?
PERDOMO: A lot of Perdomos work for the company. My mother and brother work here. My uncle still works for the company. My father [Nick Sr.] passed away four years ago, but he was extremely helpful to me. He lived in Estelí full time, and ran operation like a great captain runs a ship. He was an excellent multi-tasker and a great delegator. And he really was very good at bringing in people and making them better. He thought that it was important to bring in young guys for the future of the company.
SMOKE: You make a lot of excellent full-bodied cigars. What prompted you to make Lot 23, a milder, medium-bodied cigar?
PERDOMO: A friend from Phoenix, Arizona, who shares my interest in wine, said, “Why not come up with a cigar with all the tobaccos from one farm (vineyard)?” In 2000, my father found a farm about six miles from our facility - fantastic fertile land that nobody had ever grown on. It’s inside a crater in a valley, which he said would block the winds. He was convinced it was going to be unbelievable. The grounds were so fertile that the first year we grew on ‘Lot 23,’ 75 percent of the farm needed no fertilization whatsoever. It was absolutely perfect to grow cigar tobacco.
|Recently harvested tobacco leaves are hung to dry in|
Perdomo's curing barn.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t make the cigar with tobaccos solely from that farm, because we couldn’t produce enough sun grown wrapper. But all of the fillers and binders in our Lot 23 come from this particular farm and it was aged for a long time. When my father passed away, I decided to wait to come out with the line, which I did a year later. It has been an incredible success. It sells like wildfire and the price point is outstanding. I think that it is a nice medium bodied cigar. It is rich but it is well balanced.
SMOKE: You grow a lot of your own tobacco these days and really pay attention to the scientific side of your farming. What are the benefits of such hands-on control?
PERDOMO: Your agronomy is incredibly important: I believe in doing soil analysis, in proper soil rotation. We do not grow tobacco every year on the same farm. We rotate. That is why we have so many acres. I like the ground to rest for a minimum of one year before I grow on it again. It makes a big difference in the flavor and quality of the tobacco. We do our soil analysis with a lab in Miami and we do our seed strains and the different seeds that we use in Nicaragua. We also use a lab in Honduras, which is an agricultural institution.
SMOKE: Do you grow your own binder wrapper?
PERDOMO: Yes. About three years ago, we started growing wrapper. But most of the wrappers that we use are Sun Grown. We did get into a project three years ago to grow shade-grown wrapper and we have been really excited about it. A lot of these wrappers will be coming out in, perhaps, 2009. So basically, everything that we do now is grown under the sun, not shade grown.
SMOKE: What have been the most significant changes for you since 1997, the end of the cigar ‘boom’?
PERDOMO: The business seemed to get better for us as we grew and moved offshore. We are a very vertically integrated company. We manufacture our own boxes. We even have people to go into the forest to cut the wood. We are just detail-oriented and I hold my own destiny. That is a big difference as opposed to buying from brokers and buying boxes from other people. I think that our infrastructure is just so much sounder today than it was in 1997. We are trying to hit every aspect we can from customer service all the way to producing the best cigars that we can make at the fairest prices that we can make.
SMOKE: What are the characteristics that identify a Perdomo Cigar?
PERDOMO: About 90 percent of our cigars utilize Cuban seed tobacco and we have proprietary seeds that we use. They are very influential in the flavor of our cigars, and that makes them different and unique. We are striving to not only produce a well-balanced cigar with its rich flavor but also have great aroma and complexity. These unique flavors come from the way we age our tobacco, which is proprietary.
SMOKE: Secrets aside, what can you tell us about this process?
PERDOMO: For several years, we have been barrel aging a lot of our tobaccos. These were procedures that were done in Cuba many years ago, but it became very expensive. We bought a tremendous amount of bourbon barrels from Blanton Bourbon Co. in Kentucky - they use only the best oak barrels. And this makes a huge difference in fermenting tobacco. The alcohol dissipation inside the barrels helps the tobacco age better. The final touch really makes a big difference in the way the cigar tastes. Also, we do not bale any of our tobacco. We keep it under fermentation until we barrel age and roll the cigars. We want the tobaccos, when they are made into cigars, to be at their richest, at their fullest aromas and bursting with flavor. That makes us a little bit different from other manufacturers.
|Perdomo factory workers in Esteli, Nicaragua, packaging finished cigars.
SMOKE: You’ve put an emphasis on Cuban seeds, which have really prospered in Nicaraguan soil. For years, Nicaragua and Cuba were the only two countries that could create puros. How are they similar?
PERDOMO: Because of the different grounds that Nicaragua has. Between Condega, with cloud cover that produces great wrappers and binders; Jalapa, that produces sweet, aromatic tobaccos; and Estelí that has power houses of great sun grown wrappers and binders and heavy rich fillers, the combinations are almost endless in producing a puro that has different flavor characteristic. Whether you are looking for something mild, medium and full bodied, they will have one thing in common. They have a straight, rich sweetness and aroma. And that is what sets Nicaragua apart from all of these other countries.
SMOKE: You have a very broad line of cigars with a lot of sizes in every range. How do you handle so many offerings?
PERDOMO: What we have done is we have streamlined the brands. Where I used to have eight or nine, now I am down to four and five. In Perdomo Reserve, for example, the blends are exactly the same except for the wrappers. The green box is the Cameroon and has a sweet spicy finish. The red box is Maduro which is a nice earthy sweet cigar. This champagne, in a gold box, has a very well aged Connecticut shade wrapper. It is very smooth. It is a more creamy type cigar for people who are looking for that flavor. The Golf has a full flavor in a Connecticut shade wrapper. It is a nice rich cigar with a wrapper that has got some strength. There’s also Lot 23, the Perdomo Habano which is doing very well, and our estate selection in Vintage 91 that has been very well received in the marketplace. I would be very remiss if I failed to remark on the success of the Edición Silvio, named for my father.
SMOKE: Do you have any concerns about the safety of your investment and the future of your company in Nicaragua now that Daniel Ortega is the President again?
PERDOMO: I have great concerns, but he has assured us - consistently - that he would leave cigar manufacturers alone. On the northern coast of Nicaragua, the cigar industry employs probably 70 percent of all the people who work there. And we keep these people in Nicaragua and they do not cross the border because of the jobs that they have.
SMOKE: You must therefore be formulating a plan B?
PERDOMO: Plan B was formulated last January when he took over the presidency. We are ready to make a move if we have to. But we’ve made a big investment in Nicaragua. We have over 2,300 employees that work for the company, and they have a big stake in it too. We care about our employees. I want peace for the Nicaraguan people is peace and for us to be able to make cigars. And I hope the government here in the U.S. will just let us work too.