Owner of Oscar Valladares Tobacco Co. : Oscar Valladares
You started your first company in the cigar business while working for Rocky. Can you tell us how that came about and how it impacted everything you did from that point forward?
I had been working with Rocky doing the tours and working as a supervisor in the packaging department but I was very hungry to learn. So I started making blends. Actually I even brought a couple of leaves from Cuba and blended them with Honduran tobacco. I was just trying to gain experience. After working that way for two years I decided to open my first company. I spoke to Rocky and told him that I wanted to sell his cigars in Honduras. At first he thought I was crazy because there was no cigar smoking culture in Honduras but eventually he gave me the opportunity. Now I was running the tours, working in the factory, and on the weekends I would travel throughout Honduras selling cigars. There were no cigar shops in Honduras so I was visiting restaurants, clubs, souvenir stores, hotels and resorts but it was very complicated because they didn’t have humidors. That first year I lost a lot of money but I learned a lot. The following year I made 75 small humidors and when I visited the place I would say, “I’m going to put this humidor right here and I’ll come back in a month. Whatever you’ve sold, you pay me, and if you haven’t sold anything, don’t pay me.” I also started doing events in Honduras and promoting them through the newspapers, TV channels, and all that kind of stuff. That year I sold a lot of cigars, a lot.
When Rocky saw the numbers he saw that I was selling more cigars in Honduras than Rocky’s distributor for all of Latin America. By the end of our conversation he gave me the distribution for all of Latin America and the Caribbean. I went to work selling cigars; I hired a person to help me and I opened the market for Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Aruba, Saint Martin, Venezuela, Argentina, and a few other countries. We started selling more and more.
Later I opened my first cigar store in Danlí. I was still working in the factory, doing the tours, and distributing cigars; I was busy. I always say that tobacco changed my life because I learned so much along every step in my life in the cigar business. By 2010 I had opened a second cigar store and it was now way too much work for me. I spoke to Rocky and told him my plan to focus more on the distribution and that maybe later I would launch my own brand. He was very supportive and offered to help in any way he could. So in 2011 I asked my brother Hector and one of my best friends, Bayron Duarte, who was working for another cigar company, to start a cigar factory with me. We rented a small space near the Central Park in Danlí and opened a third cigar store but also set up a small factory, one table with two people making cigars. The idea was that you could buy the cigar and see how it was made.
You know that Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras have a rich Mayan culture and the Mayans said the world would end on December 21st in 2012. So I created a limited edition cigar called 2012. They came in a 20-count box, 19 of the cigars were packaged normally but the 20th cigar was a rustic looking cigar. I got the idea for the rustic cigar from a book that I purchased during my travels in Mexico. The book was about the history of cigars in Mexico and in it there was a picture of a Mayan tomb that had been excavated. When they opened the tomb they found a Mayan king with a cigar in his hand. The cigar looked very rustic but it was amazing to me and I thought it was a good way to commemorate the “end of the world.” That idea changed my life. That was the original LEAF; we made the 20th cigar in the box look rustic by wrapping it with a rustic looking tobacco leaf. Eventually that cigar became the LEAF by Oscar.