This profile was first published in the July/August 2014 issue of Cigar Snob.
by Nicolás A. Jiménez
It hasn’t been that long since Don Pepín’s Little Havana factory, El Rey De Los Habanos, was catching the cigar world by surprise and making the García name one of the hottest in the industry. By now, Pepín and his son Jaime (along with daughter Janny, who plays a key role on the business side in Miami) are well-known to cigar smokers everywhere, and their sprawling Estelí factory is a concrete sign that they’ve made it. At 44 years old, and with a palate he describes as being practically identical to Pepín’s, Jaime’s poised to keep the My Father brand true to the style that’s won it so much success for a long time to come.
“When I was a kid (in Cuba), you worked in the fields as part of your school curriculum. Later on, I studied agronomy and then worked at the Cuban tobacco company,” said Jaime, in Spanish, of his start in tobacco. By the time he and Pepín left Cuba for Miami (where they’d join Janny, who had already left their native country), he had experience heading quality control at a Cuban factory.
My Father has grown quickly, in large part, because of the company’s ability to achieve well-balanced flavor in full-strength cigars. Pepín’s track record has wowed consumers and the cigar industry, leaving big shoes and bigger expectations for himself and his heir apparent—who also happens to be Pepín’s biggest fan.
“My dad as a cigar maker is, in my opinion, the best there is. If I told you otherwise, I would be lying,” he said. “The only difference between the two of us is that he’s 64 and I’m 44. We’re very much alike in terms of what we look for in tobacco. We have similar palates. We talk a lot about new projects and new blends. We do everything as a team. We’re peas in a pod.”
One thing that sets Jaime apart not only from his father, but from the vast majority of other cigar brand leaders, is his agronomy expertise. His formal training in Cuba, coupled with the opportunity and resources at his disposal in Nicaragua and the foundation built by Pepín, will make him an even greater force in the future.
“Nicaragua and Cuba are very similar as far as the conditions of the climate and the soil. In Cuba, you can pick up certain experiences. But today, here in Nicaragua, there’s more opportunity than you’d have in Cuba because the possibilities are real. We have fertilizer, we have chemical analysis, we have all this science on our side in the sense that we have access to all the things that would help us make a better product. The tobacco varieties we grow are all well-known in Cuba. In these conditions and with these resources, of course the end product is superior,” said Jaime.
“The experience in Cuba is also different because, here, you work for your own company,” he continued, pointing out a contrast between the state-controlled Cuban cigar monopoly and the more free market in Central America. “That’s important because you’re doing your own planning for planting, developing your own fertilization methods, you understand the chemical analysis of the soil, and that’s something we all do as a team. Knowledge of agronomy enriches that whole process.”
While Jaime stressed that he and the My Father team are focused narrowly on their own cigars and not on what the rest of the market is doing, there are a few other cigar and tobacco men he exchanges with regularly about the business.
“I have friends in cigars and tobacco, like Gustavo Cura from Oliva Tobacco Company in Tampa. We talk tobacco often—almost every week, three or four nights a week. I talk to Pete Johnson (of Tatuaje) about once a month when he’s visiting. I also talk to Sathya and Robbie Levin (of Ashton). I have a good relationship with Ernesto Pérez-Carrillo. He and I talk shop when we see each other,” he said.
Of course, Jaime says he appreciates trade shows and events as a way to connect with tobacconists and My Father fans, but Jaime is all about tobacco.
“I’m going to tell you the truth,” Jaime said, getting noticeably excited just talking about how into this he is. “I love my job. I live and breathe tobacco. I love everything about the tobacco industry. It’s part of my life. Given that, asking me to choose which part of it I love most is like asking me whether I would prefer to have you cut off my foot or my arm,” he said.
If there’s any one part of being in the cigar industry that makes Jaime uncomfortable—even if only momentarily—it’s being in situations where his broken English gets in the way of exchanges with consumers. As a cigar maker, though, his priority is to make sure My Father blends are where they need to be. Despite the speed with which the company has grown, that means making sure the smoking experience comes first, not the number of cigars they produce.
“We want to make sure that we stay relevant as a result of our quality,” said Jaime. “At no time have we talked about making production volume a priority. I don’t think about making 20 million cigars or anything like that. I want to make whatever I’m capable of making at 100 percent quality. I want for every cigar we make to be one that the smoker is happy with.”
So what’s on the way for My Father fans? Earlier this year, La Antiguedad was released to the rave reviews we’ve come to expect when Pepín and his crew bring a product to market. At this year’s IPCPR trade show, the company will be debuting the My Father Connecticut, which Jaime describes as a very aromatic mild-to-medium smoke made with tobacco that’s been aged at least three years.
“We’re in the midst of developing more blends for the future. We’re also harvesting and curing tobacco in enormous quantities this year—so much so that we’re building new equipment in order to be able to ferment all the tobacco we’ll have accumulated,” said Jaime.
My Father is a well-established, traditional brand run by a family with deep roots in tobacco, a strong sense of tradition, and a perfectionist approach to creating their product. With a growing stockpile of tobacco and plans to release a mild-to-medium smoke—something that’s usually well outside the wheelhouse of the My Father brand—you can be sure that the company will continue to find ways to keep things fresh for the legions of loyal followers it’s amassed. Jaime, with the love of tobacco he’s inherited from Pepín and the technical skills to get every step of the process just right, is the ideal leader for the next chapter in the My Father story.