J.C. Newman’s Nicaraguan factory Pensa is running at full steam
By Stephen A. Ross
During the 2016 Nicaraguan Puro Sabor cigar festival, Eric Newman, president of J.C. Newman Cigar Company, joked that his company’s Nicaraguan cigar factory, Puros de Esteli SA (Pensa), had expanded so much that it desperately needed rollers. Hosting lunch and a cigar rolling competition on the festival’s last day, Newman teased the audience that the contest’s winners would receive immediate job offers as cigar rollers. While Newman might have been kidding, the jest is based in truth—there’s a real need for more employees at the Pensa factory thanks to the growing popularity of J.C. Newman’s cigar brands—Quorum, Brick House and Perla del Mar—made there.
Like many of the other cigar factories in Nicaragua, Pensa is running full-tilt, despite expansion in 2015 that grew the factory by 30 percent and included a long-filler tobacco processing and storage center. Pensa employs nearly 600 people, who make approximately 75,000 cigars a day. Nicaraguan cigars have already captured the imaginations and palates of American cigar smokers, and their popularity is rapidly growing worldwide. Considering the increasingly voracious worldwide demand for Nicaraguan cigars, it should come as no surprise that Pensa is doing so well, especially considering J.C. Newman’s reputation for producing high-quality cigars that sell at very reasonable prices. Pensa’s meteoric growth certainly doesn’t surprise Omar Ortez, who manages the factory’s daily operations.
“Good cigars sell,” says Ortez, who also serves in an administrative role at Nicaragua American Cigars SA (NACSA, which is owned by a coalition of other companies), where an eponymous brand is manufactured. “And great cigars become the best-selling cigars. We are always working on the quality control so that all the cigars that we make are of very high quality no matter what the price point. The Newman family are focused on quality and providing their customers the best attainable value in their cigars.”
The Newmans’ insistence on producing high-quality cigars led to the very existence of Pensa, which the company built in 2011 to house production of its Quorum bundled cigar brand. The company built the state-of-the-art facility with employee health and comfort in mind, as well as caring for the fragile ecosystem around Esteli. The factory includes a medical center with a full-time doctor on staff to care for employees and their families. The factory is extremely eco-friendly and uses renewable resources wherever possible. The factory’s cooling, humidification and sanitation systems use recycled water, and much of the lighting comes from large glass panels installed in the roof, which allow an ample amount of natural sunlight inside. The result is a comfortable working environment that makes a job at Pensa a highly coveted position for Nicaraguans seeking employment in the cigar industry.
“The Newman family understands that happy employees make better cigars,” Ortez explains. “This is a handcraft industry. It relies on the goodwill and love of all the people who work in the factory, and this is one of the greatest things that Pensa has. Everybody feels that they want to produce the best possible because they have a stake in the factory. But the Newman family treats their employees so well not only because they want to make the best cigars they can make but because they are also very good people who genuinely care for their employees. The working environment is excellent, and I am very comfortable working with them. We are very good friends, and we fit very well together. It is a great pleasure for the business.”
It’s also a great pleasure for cigar consumers who enjoy Quorum, Brick House and Perla del Mar. One of the guiding motivations behind establishing Pensa in 2011 was to ensure Quorum’s quality. A mixed-filler, or Cuban sandwich, cigar that uses both long filler and short filler tobaccos in its blend, Quorum was immediately successful, and it has become the top-selling bundled cigar in the United States (see sidebar “Pensa Cigars at a Glance” for descriptions).
“Most manufacturers think of bundled cigars as an afterthought, but here it is the main product,” Ortez says. “The blend’s quality is consistent. This is the key to the success of Quorum. Other manufacturers might not put the same emphasis on the blend and quality for their bundles. They might use just any tobacco for their bundle cigars, but we have specific suppliers who give us the tobacco types we want for Quorum. The consistency is there. We use the same blend all the time, and the same type of care goes into the making of Quorum that goes into making a premium cigar.”
Production of Quorum has gone so well at Pensa that in 2015 J.C. Newman moved the making of its premium cigar line Brick House to the factory. In the same year, J.C. Newman launched Perla del Mar and has entrusted Pensa and its employees for its manufacture as well, sparking the addition of a tobacco processing and storage area to vastly increase the tobacco inventory at the factory to guarantee the consistency of all the brands produced there.
“If we can’t get the quality tobacco we require for a particular cigar, we will stop the production of it instead of changing the blend until the tobacco becomes available again,” Ortez explains. “While the operations of each brand are separate, all the brands have the same strict quality control.
“All of the tobaccos are fermented for at least 12 months, and then they are aged at least a year. The binder and filler tobaccos are checked leaf by leaf again before they are put into production. This way we can know that the finished cigar is good quality. The smoker can have confidence that the tobacco that we use and the manufacturing of all the brands that Pensa does is the very best that we can do. They fulfill all the requirements that any high-end brand requires.”
To be sure, there have been some growing pains, but the results have been worth the discomfort. Pensa is a stronger and better factory today than it was just two years ago. If current plans can remain in place and government regulation is thwarted, the future of Pensa and the rest of the Nicaraguan cigar industry looks bright. Only time will tell, but until then Pensa will remain at peak production, thanks to the reputation it has established in the past five years.
“Every single brand that is produced here is known for being quality-made, and that helps the sales of all the brands because people know that Pensa produces excellent cigars. It builds consumer confidence that the factory is doing the right thing. We take care of the J.C. Newman name in the quality that we produce, and they appreciate it. We all get to grow together.”