Owner of Oscar Valladares Tobacco Co. : Oscar Valladares
You’ve accomplished a lot in what seems like a short period of time in the cigar business, but in fact you’ve been involved in cigars for quite some time. Can you give us a brief history of how you went from driving a tour bus for cigar tourists to producing cigars that are enjoyed all over the world?
I’ve been in the cigar business for almost 20 years. I’m from Honduras, the specific area where the cigars are made is Danlí, but I’m from the capital city (Tegucigalpa). And I was working for a tour company, nothing to do with cigars. But Rocky Patel started bringing groups to Honduras and he hired the company I worked for. So I was driving a bus, picking up the groups from the airport and taking them to the guesthouse in Danlí with Rocky. That was the first time I visited the cigar factories in Honduras. From there I started to get more and more involved every day helping Rocky with the tours of the farms, box factory, the fermentation rooms. He was bringing around one thousand people a year.
I liked this concept. I had studied tourism in the university so I liked it, visiting the factory and seeing the whole process of cigar making. It’s amazing to see how many people are involved in this process of growing, fermenting, making boxes, putting on the labels, all this stuff. But when I started I had never smoked a cigar and I didn’t drink, so all of this is Rocky’s fault! [chuckles] Soon I was smoking cigars every day, hosting the groups, making sure that everything was good in the house as far as food, drinks, everything. Rocky was bringing groups to Honduras seven months of the year and for the rest of the year I was doing non-cigar tours in other parts of the country, basically a tour guide. After two years Rocky offered me a fulltime job at the factory, running the tours during the season and working in the packaging department for the rest of the year. Initially I declined the offer because I really enjoyed traveling; experiencing other cultures, different foods; you know I like that kind of stuff. A year later I agreed to work for him but I told him before I start I want to go to Cuba and learn more about cigars. I wanted to learn more about the difference between cigars and tobacco in Honduras, Nicaragua, and Cuba. So I spent two months in Cuba and I visited Pinar del Rio, San Luis, and San Juan y Martinez. And I spent a couple of days with Alejandro Robaina, you know a lot of people would visit him. But one day I’m with him smoking cigars and drinking coffee and I was asking him a lot of questions. And he asked me why I was asking so many questions so I told him that I was going to start working for a cigar company and I wanted him to share his experience with me. He told me something I will never forget: “Tobacco needs love. If you give your love to the tobacco, it is too generous and it will give love back.” In that moment I was a little bit lost, I didn’t understand what he was talking about. He said, “Oscar, you need to go to the farm and touch the leaves, smell the leaves, talk to the leaves, if you give them love they will give it back.” I left Cuba and visited some friends who make cigars in Nicaragua and kept asking the same kinds of questions and I started to understand that this isn’t only a business, it’s a culture, it’s a passion, it’s love. It’s amazing.