What used to produce cigars for Fidel Olivas will now manufacture AJ’s own brands as well as private labels such as Erik Espinosa’s 601 and Southern Draw. “The demand has increased, so we have been unable to meet the deadline for what we’re producing in our factory in Estelí,” Ismael Fernandez, general manager and AJ’s father, says. “At the same time, by buying a factory in Ocotal and not Estelí, we’ve been able to present many job opportunities to the people up there. We’re training a lot of new staff.”
Before AJ Fernandez took over the factory it had been unused for a few years, which meant that the interior needed a comprehensive overhaul.
“We remodeled everything, from floor to ceiling, the lighting, the air conditioning and new tables. They used to roll everything by hand here, but our bunchers use Lieberman machines so we put in new tables and machines. We’ve also put in new bathrooms and divided the old warehouses and made sure that what needed to be connected was connected.”
The factory opened at the beginning of 2017. It has room for 120 pairs of rollers and the goal is to make 30,000 cigars per day.
“Some of the employees from the old factory have stayed on alongside the people we’re training. After a month, we already had 59 pairs working and we were producing 17,000 cigars per day. Another good thing is that some of these people moved to Estelí to work when the factory closed down. They can now move back.”
The factory is called San Lotano after the brand that AJ’s grandfather, Andres Fernandez, once started in Cuba and AJ himself reintroduced a few years ago.
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Autumn Edition 2017.