It’s not only the number 2012 that is important for the cigar manufacturer Oscar Valladares – it’s also the original people of Honduras and Oscar’s love for his homeland that have taken the man to where is today: he is one of the most promising, most creative and most interesting personalities on the international cigar floor.
Until 2011, Oscar worked for one of the very big power brokers of the cigar scene, Rocky Patel. “When I first visited Danlí 15 years ago, I didn’t even smoke cigars!” reveals Oscar, who at the time was chauffeuring visitors for Rocky all over Honduras. “But I immediately fell in love with the wonderful process of cigar manufacturing. I understood what kind of special moment it is to smoke a cigar, because so much individual work goes into it,” the Honduran remembers. He began thinking about how he could become a part of this process, and it didn’t take long for Rocky to recognize Oscar’s thirst for knowledge and his passion for cigars. At first, Rocky offered him a full-time job in quality control. A little later, Oscar even took over the cigar distribution as a self-employed entrepreneur for Rocky Patel Premium Cigars throughout South America. A short while later came the disillusionment. For various reasons, business didn’t go well and Oscar was left with a mountain of debt. But Oscar wouldn’t be Oscar, if he had let that get him down. What looked like the end was Oscar’s beginning.
A Turning Point for Oscar Valladares
Already at that time, Valladares was bursting with ideas. When he started his own production in 2012 in Danlí, he’d long had the idea for his first product in mind: the 2012 by Oscar. Inside the box was a cigar that was wrapped in an unfermented tobacco leaf, instead of cellophane. It was this special cigar that was supposed to be smoked at the turning point 21.12.2012. “I created the Puro for this date for the passionados in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras,” Oscar tells us. “People know the Mayan history well, and I thought that with such a story I could sell my product more easily. The twist with the cigar wrapped in a loose leaf was supposed to be reminiscent of the first robust cigars of the Mayas, who simply wrapped up tobacco leaves and smoked them.” The idea worked; the product was good, and sales were promising.
Through the 2012 cigar, a store owner in the United States became aware of the brand new cigar maker. Jim Robinson, owner of Leaf and Bean, sold the 2012 in his shop and thus introduced it to the US. Inspired by the 2012, Robinson wanted to have his private blend made by Oscar. All cigars were to be wrapped in a tobacco leaf, just like the single one of the 2012. With great difficulty, Valladares had just rented a small factory – his brother, Hector Valladares, and master blender Bayron Duarte vouched for Oscar, both in idea and financially. Today, still, they are his closest confidants and co-owners of the company in Danlí. “In 2011, Bayron gave me the heads up about the small, empty-standing factory and always encouraged me to build my own business. My brother mortgaged his house so that we could raise money,” says Oscar, describing this difficult but crucial time.
Leaf By Oscar
What followed reads like a “cigar fairy tale”: Robinson ordered 5,000 cigars; the label was called Leaf and Bean by Oscar. “When I sent him the first instalment of 1,000 cigars in 2013, they sold out within one and a half weeks. People were crazy about the new brand; we were inundated with phone calls from numerous shopkeepers who all wanted this cigar.” Robinson holds the selling rights of Leaf by Oscar (meanwhile the adapted name of the cigar) for the US. The cigar became a bestseller. If you take a closer look, you’ll notice the love for detail with which Oscar equips his products. The cigar rings of Leaf by Oscar are made from hand-made paper – the raw material, however, is not just any plant, but is based on the remains of tobacco leaves.
Recently, Oscar even used tobacco flowers, from which wonderful sheets of paper are produced. In the meantime, his paper workshop employs 25 women in Danlí. In 2016 Valladares launched The Oscar Valladares – yet another star in the cigar sky. The new brand quickly made it into the Top 25 of Cigar Journal, ranking at no. 9 in 2016. It comes in a mold and half of it is wrapped in a Candela tobacco leaf. The stain of the cigar forms consists of water mixed with tobacco leaves. With Oscar, everything is used. His thinking is not only extremely creative, but also sustainable in the best sense.
The Honduran’s biggest hurdle as an entrepreneur is the rapid growth of his company. “When the brand Leaf by Oscar grew so overwhelmingly I not only had no tobacco, but also no money to buy any,” says Oscar, looking back at the difficult year of 2013. “And I constantly had to expand my factory; that is, to look for new production facilities – from 1,000 m2 to 10,000, and now to 25,000 m2. But I never knew if I’d manage it financially. One time I even sold my car in order to pay my employees.” When the first purchased pilón of tobacco arrived, there was no space to store it. Oscar used his courtyard and created an emergency shelter for his tobacco. “But it was one of the best moments of my career as a manufacturer. I took care of it like it was a baby, covered it, uncovered it, so it stayed immaculate,” he tells us.
In the meantime, Valladares employs over 200 people in Danlí alone, and, once again, the current factory is at its limit in size. From February 2017 to February 2018, the company grew 168 percent with the Oscar, 2012, and My Way brands; currently, 350,000 cigars are produced per month. Oscar’s attitude to this, however, is almost philosophical: “Of course I’m happy about our success. But I don’t have any number on the horizon about where I want to go. I don’t want to grow in percent, but in what I do and how I do it.” Apparently, his creative approach to the product cigar is a reason for his success. “I don’t have a factory, I have a lab,” says Oscar.
Reference Point Copán
In the meantime, not only is Danlí the company’s base, activities in Copán are becoming increasingly important. One hundred people work for the firm there, and 200 acres (over 80 hectares) of tobacco fields are cultivated by Valladares in the region. He loves it for several reasons. For one, he enthuses about the tobacco that grows there: “The tobacco leaves are thicker, and you have to deal with it differently. You have to understand it. The tobacco has to be dried and fermented in a different way,” Oscar explains. Currently, he only uses leaves from Copán for fillers, but also plans to cultivate wrapper leaf there, too.
Eventually, production will also begin in the Mayan region. Fermentation is already done there, and because Oscar’s tobacco cultivation in the location is continually growing, the logical consequence would be a Valladares factory in Copán. It’s not just the region’s tobacco that means a lot to the Honduran: “Although I don’t derive from the Mayans, it’s always inspiring that they used tobacco. In the ruins, there’s a very unique energy, and each time I’m there I feel something new, something different.” Inspired by two monuments of the World Heritage Site of Copán, Oscar created two further brands for his cigar portfolio: Rosalila, on the market since 2013, and Altar Q, which will be launched at the IPCPR in July. Rosalila is the best preserved temple in Copán and was a tribute to the first king of the dynasty of Copán. Altar Q is a cuboid-shaped altar with four deities on each side, all of which were kings of the Mayan city.
Something other than Copán also influences Oscar in his creativity: with each new brand, he wants to tell a story. And all his stories are related to his country. “I want people to have associations, and I like these stories to breathe new life into the cigars,” says Oscar enthusiastically. In early 2018, the new brand Ciserón Edition appeared. Ciserón is a Honduran artist, who painted 10 cigar images especially for Oscar. Reproductions of these works serve as a box lid for the Ciserón Edition. This is designed in such a way that the lid is already framed, and the cigar smoker only needs to put a nail in the wall and, in addition to the cigars, he or she has also acquired a piece of art. It seems that Oscar is never out of ideas or unbridled energy. As well as continuing to build on his cigar business, he also hopes to bring tourists to his beautiful, crisis-ridden country. “I try to involve many Hondurans in my business; I want to show the world what the country has to offer. It needs people who have dreams and who can also implement them,” Valadares says, hopefully.
Three years ago, Oscar inherited his great-grandfather’s coffee plantations. He runs this branch with the same devotion with which he builds his cigar business. “I was in Cuba once, because I wanted to learn about cigars – at the beginning, when I worked for Rocky. I didn’t actually learn that much then, but I met Robaina, who gave me the sentence that shaped my future life,” he discloses. “Oscar,” Alejandro Robaina said, “tobacco is generous. You have to touch it, give it love, and if you do that, it gives you love back.” Oscar follows this advice in all its facets: in dealing with people, with his cigars, and now with his coffee. When it comes to the cigar industry, his life motto seems to work. Passionados love him, the industry appreciates him – and everybody looks forward to what will continue to come from his creative cigar lab in Honduras!
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Summer Edition 2018. Read more