They all used to live together, in Cuba as well as in Miami. Today they’re still only a block away, and the house in Nicaragua accommodates all of them. The Garcías truly live and breathe cigars together. “I even share the back patio with my parents,” Janny García laughs. “There’s no fence or anything.” She’s the director of operations and was the first one to make it to the US. Aged only 18, through a governmental visa program, she moved to Miami to create a better life for herself and, by extension, her family. The idea was to get them out as well, and Janny’s brother Jaime tried to join his sister several times but it didn’t work. It wasn’t until her father, José “Don Pepín” García, got an invitation to go work in Nicaragua that they eventually made their way to Florida, where they moved in together. “We had a hard time being separated,” Pepín says. “And that’s when the story of My Father started. We’re here because Janny came here.” It’s not often that a tobacco story starts with an 18-year-old daughter. At this point, however, it hadn’t been a matter of tobacco for Janny, simply survival. “I was all alone and didn’t have a plan. I just needed a job, so I got three. I got up at 5am and went to bed at midnight, more or less every day,” she says. It changed when her family arrived, and in 2003 they all started My Father together, Pepín, Janny, Jaime, and their mother, María.
“In the end, I grew up on tobacco,” says Janny. “When I was in school, I had to work in the fields for one month per year. In Villa Clara, where we’re from, it was mostly tobacco, so you learn everything about it. I remember my mom taking me to the factory to visit dad. I was always complaining about having allergies from the smell of tobaccos when we left.” As a newcomer on the market after the boom, it was hard for the company in the beginning, but they fought through it, always coming back to the importance of family. “It doesn’t matter what you go through in life, family comes first,” Janny continues. “This is what we wanted to do, and we were determined to make it. No matter what. I mean, I was the one who had to speak English, and I hardly spoke any back then. But I knew more than the others.” She laughs at the memory. “We’ve made mistakes, but we’ve always been there for each other.” “We had the knowledge, we knew how to work with tobacco and roll cigars,” Jaime adds. “Our only concern was the market, since it was a different country, but that’s something you learn, day by day. I had no doubt that we’d make it. We wanted to grow as a family and that’s the key to our success.” Today he’s officially the president of the company, but apparently there’s a little bit more to it than that. “In Nicaragua, I’m the manager, the third-base coach, the catcher and the pitcher,” Jaime says with a smile. “I do everything, with the help of a great team.” Including blending, with or without his father.
“We have to agree on a blend, even if just he or I made it, though,” Pepín says. “We always smoke it together.” “My dad is my mentor,” says Jaime. “I’m an agronomist so I already knew about the agricultural part of things, but he taught me the complete picture.” “Jaime is a person with a lot of knowledge,” Pepín continues. “He can look into the future. God gave him a special gift.”
It’s obvious that dad is enjoying every minute of working side by side with his children. “Es perfecto,” Pepín says.” I have a good relationship with my kids. We don’t disagree very much and we talk to each other.” Jaime adds that there are no egos in their family. “No one needs to have the final word. We’re family and owners of the company, so we know what responsibility we have in this business. There are never any arguments, and the day I have an issue with my family is the day I resign.” After a slight hesitation and a smile, Janny concurs. “It’s actually true. We each know our place. I would never get involved in making a blend, because that’s not my position to do so. My brother might give me his opinion on something, but if I make a decision regarding our sales force it’s my decision. We all have our duties.” And the living together, or at least close, is still an important part of their existence. “Many people have asked us why,” says Jaime. “The answer is simple. We enjoy it. But the family grew so much we had to move. It was hard, because I was used to see my mom every morning. Now, she’s not there with a coffee anymore.” So maybe it’s good they still live in the same house in Nicaragua. You don’t want to quit cold turkey. “When we built the house we made sure there were rooms for everyone,” Janny says. “Even the grandkids.” “Everybody’s more independent now, but that’s still what we’re used to,” her brother adds. Besides Jaime and Janny, there are also cousins, nephews and aunts involved, and soon there will be another generation. Pepín and María have seven grandchildren, and the most important thing, according to Janny, is to preserve the legacy of her father. “His integrity, honesty, love and commitment for what he does means everything,” she says. “My dad worked so hard in Cuba. He woke up at 4 o’clock in the morning to go to the factory and roll cigars. When he came home he went to the fields to grow rice and beans so we could eat. He didn’t go to bed until midnight. That gives you an idea of how committed he is to his job, and that’s what my brother and I grew up with. Sick or not, we go to work every day. My brother is at the factory at 7 o’clock and welcomes every employee. This is his legacy. That’s how we’re going to remember him when he’s gone.” “You need to remember where you come from and we do that because we started this together,” Pepín explains. “I don’t have too many things left to teach them. They’ve both been good students and they know pretty much what I know now. I could never have accomplished this without them. I would have started a company, but it would have been a small one and I would never have built the factory in Estelí. I had all I needed at the factory in Little Havana. I did that for the kids.” “And we appreciate that,” Janny laughs. “Family made this happen, so this is for the family,” Pepín says. “I’m leaving this in good hands.”