Box Press Podcast

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Even before a global pandemic affected the premium cigar industry (every industry!), Abe Flores began revitalizing his adolescent cigar brand, PDR. The company’s founder leaned into both his cigar mentors and the rich tobacco lineage of the Dominican Republic.

Hear what’s new for the nearly 20-year-old brand during this episode of Box Press with Rob Gagner at 2021 PCA in Las Vegas, including how Abe has:

  • Swapped out some Nicaraguan-grown fillers for D.R. varietals 
  • Simplified his tobacco blends
  • Halved the number of cigars his Tamboril factory produces

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PDR protects its boutique premium cigars, like El Trovador and El Criollito by packaging with Boveda, 2-way humidity control. Shop Boveda for Tobacco here.

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– But it’s kind of prideful, right? If somebody’s telling you how to correct something that you built, it’s like, you have to be mature enough-

– [Abe Flores] To take it.

– to listen and take that criticism, and move forward with it. Because it’s coming from a good space.

– Yes, my whole company has changed. I’m happier. They really guided me much better. Carrillo also, really focused on this, this, and this, and you’ll be great. You know what I’m saying? Even if you make 10 thousand cigars a day, you’ll be fine. You know what I’m saying?

– [Rob Gagner] Right.

– So I was like, and that’s what I’m doing. Now I don’t care if only make 15 thousand cigars a day. Okay.

– It’s not a numbers race.

– It’s not a numbers race.

– No.

– Now it’s like, it’s not about volume anymore. It’s about quality now.

– Yeah! Now we’re here.

– Yeah, it’s about quality.

– [Rob Gagner] Now we’re here.

– Provide quality. Don’t provide croquetas. Do quality, you know what I’m saying? Don’t be Budweiser. There’s already a Budweiser, you know? Be a-

– Well, you’re kind of being Budweiser because you know that every time I pick up this 10th Anniversary, I know what I’m gonna get.

– [Abe Flores] Yeah.

– It’s not gonna change on me. Hey, you cracked a Budweiser, and it tastes like an IPA. Whoa, wrong beer! There’s a story inside every smoke shop, with every cigar, and with every person. Come be a part of the cigar lifestyle at Boveda. This is Box Press. Welcome to another episode of Box Press. I’m your host, Rob Gagner. I’m at 2021’s PCA Trade Show. And I am sitting down with Abe Flores of PDR cigars. Abe, thank you for joining me today.

– Thank you very much for having me.

– [Rob Gagner] Yeah man. This has been a long time coming.

– Yes.

– Yeah. You’ve been a For My Humidor poster campaigner for many, many years. And every time I see you at a trade show like this, I’m like, “Abe, I’ve gotta get you on the show.” And you go, “Yeah, any time.” And then next time I say, “Abe, I gotta get you on the show.” “Yeah, any time. I’m still here, Rob.” So, I apologize. Longtime overdue, but thank you so much for making time for me.

– No problem, my friend.

– Yeah. We both sound like Barry White, him more than me. It’s Vegas. It’s dry air, something in it. We’re gonna make it, buddy.

– Yes.

– [Rob Gagner] We’re gonna make it.

– Yes, I don’t know what it is. It’s just dry air, dry everything. Doesn’t help that we smoke a lot of cigars, too, so.

– Yeah!

– Yeah, it’s not the cigars!

– No, no, no!

– It’s never the cigars.

– No!

– Never, never the cigars.

– Yeah, I’m all stuffed up because I’m retrohaling sixteen cigars a day.

– Oh! That’s normal.

– Do you ever-

– That’s a normal day at the factory.

– But you don’t get like this when you’re at the factory tasting blends, do you?

– No, at all!

– Why?

– Because it’s humid!

– [Rob Gagner] Because it’s humid?

– Yes. It’s the Dominican Republic.

– Because you actually have moisture to go back into those vocal cords.

– Yes! This is the desert. Who wants to live here?

– I don’t know! Not me.

– It’s insane. You go outside in Las Vegas at all and it’s like… one time I went to visit a friend of mine, has a house, a little bit out. And once I saw the highway and I saw how plain and flat, I’m like, “Oh my God! Why you want to live here?”

– And you see the heat coming up off the asphalt. And it looks like a mirage. Like the highways going to end 50 feet in front of me.

– [Abe Flores] Yeah!

– But it’s just a mirage of the heat coming off. It looks like it’s bending the highway to the left and to the right.

– Yeah, why would you do that? Why you want to live here? It’s insane!

– You can fry an egg. If we go outside right now and crack an egg on a pan, it’s 117 degrees. It’ll eventually fry.

– Yeah, you don’t need a kitchen. You don’t need a kitchen.

– The other day I was sitting in a courtyard of a restaurant and it was, you know, a full building courtyard, not a lot of wind. When the wind kicked up, it felt like somebody opened the oven door and blew hot air all over my face. It literally made me want to get up and go, “No, thank you.”

– [Abe Flores] It’s insane. It’s insane.

– But I suffered, and I smoked another cigar through it. Because I didn’t have enough during the day.

– [Abe Flores] Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.

– I mean, come on. Let’s be real. Can never have enough.

– No, you can never have enough cigars. You came over earlier it’s like, you gonna smoke? Like, no, no, no. And I’m smoking a cigar. I’m like I should stop. But I’m like…

– [Rob Gagner] But I can’t.

– I just can’t. I just can’t.

– [Rob Gagner] It’s part of the culture. It’s part of what we’re doing here.

– Yeah. Oh no, I’m not smoking. It’s like, okay, and I’m like, I’m smoking. Something’s wrong with me. I don’t know.

– And I didn’t even have to twist your arm to do it.

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– This is the 10th Anniversary. So, this is the re-blended 10th Anniversary. I mean, it’s Felito Cubano. Habano inside.

– [Rob Gagner] I love Habano.

– It’s from Navarrete Los Reyes. And then, the binder itself is Habano too, from the D.R. And the wrapper’s from actually David Pérez from Ecuador.

– [Rob Gagner] Yeah?

– A.S.P. Yeah, it was very good.

– [Rob Gagner] Very good!

– Yeah I mean, look at that. The burn and no whiteness on it. It’s great.

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– You know who I just had on the show? I had Storm Boen from Cigars for Warriors. And didn’t you make that cigar? The Hiram & Solomon Cigars.

– Yes, I did.

– Yeah, that was a good cigar, man.

– Thank you, thank you.

– Nice job!

– They’re great people.

– [Rob Gagner] Oh my God, yeah!

– Fouad And Romy are great. Great! I mean, I met him many years before, Fouad, before he got married. I tell him, he’s actually better now since he’s been married.

– [Rob Gagner] Oh, yeah!

– Because she like elevates him in a way. Makes him look a little bit more, I don’t know. She’s more high class. I don’t know what it is about her. She’s awesome. So, he’s really more experimental, and they really get down and dirty. She’s not a regular woman, man. She’s really understands tastes and flavoring. So, other people I have given cigars and blends; they smoke it like, oh, this is good or bad. No, she really like looks for certain characteristics in tobacco that she wants in her cigar. She knows I smoke a lot of Cubans, and I look for old Cubans.

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-When I go to Europe, and I usually go to Spain because Spain is really where they have the most amount of old Cubans.

– I went and I bought a ton of all old Cubans.

– Old Cubans in Spain. You go to Madrid, you go to Tomasito in…

– [Rob Gagner] Barcelona.

– Georgie in Barcelona. You got to Jorge, George. Go to him, and you just tell him, “I don’t want the- I want the old stuff.” And they pull it out from the back.

– [Rob Gagner] Yeah! Open up the bottom shelf.

– Give me the bottom shelf. I want the stuff four, five, six years old because the new stuff, no. Cuban cigars are great-

– [Rob Gagner] When aged.

– When it’s aged. Because they don’t ferment really that much, the tobacco.

– [Rob Gagner] No, they can’t.

– They can’t, it’s like-

– [Rob Gagner] They need money. It’s printing money over there.

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– It’s printing money. It’s Budweiser. They need to print it. They need to get it out. But that’s the reason people, aficionados, look for Cuban cigars because they look for box dates. It’s like wine. You know what I’m saying?

– [Rob Gagner] Yeah! Vintage!

– Very vintage, like they know, okay, you know, this batch-

– [Rob Gagner] 2016 was great.

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– Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. They go, “Oh, 1996 Partagas Serie D No. 4, like this.”

– [Rob Gagner] And this size.

– This size, Monte No. 2 size.

– [Rob Gagner] And the area. What factory rolled that?

– What factory, at that time? Because they changed it. Oh no, it wasn’t Laguito. No, but now they changed the Piloto.

– [Rob Gagner] Now we’re really geekin’ out.

– And they’re getting dirty. They know this #!%* like down and deep because they know that’s gonna be a good cigar. Everything else is crap. Literally.

– Well, it’s still great cigars, but for the geek geek that wants that. Yeah, they’re like, “No, I’m not gonna invest in that.”

– I’m not gonna invest in that. So it’s like, they know. So, when I went to Cuba for the festival, I knew this Russian girl who was a sommelier, Habano sommelier. She’s like, “All right.” I’m like, “What cigar should I smoke?” She’s like, “Okay, you’re not gonna find anything old in Cuba.” I’m like, “What? What are you talking about?”

– [Rob Gagner] It’s all gone.

– The Castas won’t have it. But if you’re gonna smoke anything, smoke the Corona Sancho Panza or the Belicoso Sancho Panza, Ramon Allones Corona. And then she said, “Maybe you can do…” She said, “Like a Partagas, like the Petit Belicoso. Everything else is too fresh.” I’m like, “All right.”

– [Rob Gagner] Good to have her advice.

– And I was like, “Oh my God.” And then I tried something else, I was like, “Oh my God. It’s horrible.” And I looked at the box dates. This one’s just packed like a week ago! Like, oh my God. You know why those are better? Because they last longer. People don’t smoke those sizes. They’re odd sizes. And I’m like, “Oh!” And they sit longer. If you notice Belicosos sales, nobody’s smoking Belicosos anymore.

– Really? I guess from a manufacturer side, you would know that. But I don’t know that.

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– When was the last time you smoke a Belicoso?

– Yeah. Yeah.

– You had to think about it.

– Yeah, oh yeah! Yeah, I don’t know. It’s been awhile.

– It’s been awhile, right?

– Or if I have smoked it, it’s been rolled for a long time. It’s been aged. Why is that? That size not popular, huh?

– I don’t know what it is. Things go through fads, man. It’s like, at one point, Lanceros were hot.

– [Rob Gagner] Oh yeah, like two years ago.

– Yeah. Now, dead. That goes with the little pops up and down. And then, like, Coronas. Coronas are getting up, again.

– It’s a great size, though.

– [Abe Flores] I love Coronas.

– Coronas are just perfect. 42 ring gauge.

– [Abe Flores] 42.

– 44.

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– Yeah, 44. But I said, I mean, Belicosos are dead. They don’t make Beli- I took out all the Beli’s out of all my lines. It makes no sense. They were just sitting around. And the funny thing is, once they killed it, I had like one shop call me up and say, “God, I need some Belicosos.” Like, what? You haven’t ordered in like a year.

– [Rob Gagner] I got 27 boxes sitting over here for you. And that’s it.

– We had some and he bought whatever we had. And then he was like, “Oh, I need more.” I was like, “I took it out.”

– [Rob Gagner] I’m out.

– I’m out!

– Now those molds will just sit blank. Maybe you could do a shop exclusive for him.

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– We’re living in a very weird time right now.

– Why you say that?

– You know, production wise, I used to make like 30 thousand cigars a day, 30 to 35 thousand a day. Then, COVID hit. And we were closed for like almost four months. I had to furlough. Let go most of my factory because I didn’t, we didn’t know when we were gonna open up. When we opened up again, they let us in slowly. Like 10 people at a time, and people are not gonna sit there waiting. And they started giving this money to the people, like unemployment. called FASE in the D.R. So, the people started getting money, So, they don’t want to come back. So, it’s been very hard getting rollers and people to come back. And now, we’re getting to 15,000 cigars a day. And then, the problem is we’re rolling less. I’m not the only one with that problem. All the other manufacturers are going through the same thing. So, there’s a high demand or more people were at home smoking more. It’s a big demand for cigars. It’s like a boom.

– [Rob Gagner] Right!

– We can’t keep up and we can’t produce enough.

– When do you think it’s really gonna come to like a total… The consumer’s gonna find out that they can’t get what they want. And the manufacturer is gonna say, “I’m at way over max!” It it gonna be in the next 12 months or the next 24 months?

– I think in the next two years.

– Two years?

– But then, the demand will definitely will start going down because more people are gonna start going to work, you know, within a couple years.

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– But do you think that’s gonna change the way that they smoke cigars? To me, the only reason people started smoking more cigars is because they have more time on their hands. Because they stopped all the social engagements that prohibited the smoking of cigars. You’re not going out to restaurants that you can’t go smoke at. The kids aren’t going to soccer this weekend because they can’t play soccer. Now the family life is gonna come back, but are they going to give up cigars for the social life?

– I hope not.

– Yeah, me too! I don’t.

– You don’t what?

– I don’t give up my social life for not enjoying cigars. I will go to a restaurant that has a patio that I can smoke at now. I will go somewhere purposefully, so I can enjoy a cigar while I’m there. Because now, the wager has been shown to me that I enjoy cigars more than I enjoy the social aspect of being out in public and hanging out with friends at non-cigar friendly areas.

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– For me, I mean, I’ll tell you one thing, the Dominican Republic, I don’t eat at restaurants where I can’t smoke.

– Well, in the D.R., that’s like everywhere, isn’t it?

– [Abe Flores] No.

– Really? There are areas that you cannot smoke?

– There are restaurants. When you go, we take you where, you think everywhere. No.

– [Rob Gagner] I would have thought everywhere.

– No, because we’re taking you. You’re hanging out with cigar people.

– And you already know.

– And we know where we’re gonna take you.

– Right. So, same thing would happen to me. If you came to Minneapolis, I’d be like, “Here’s where we’re gonna go.” And you’d be like, “Great, there’s no smoking ban here.”

– Oh, yeah! There is!

– Yeah, a big one.

– There is places where you can’t smoke cigars, at all. Literally. So, I don’t go to restaurants. I got a friend of mine has a restaurant. He’s like, “Yo, you never come to eat here.” I be like, “I can’t smoke.”

– [Rob Gagner] Right!

– He’s like, “You can bring your friends or customers.” But like, I can’t smoke. Open up a patio or something. He had to open up a pa- He had to rent a space next and open up a patio. His wife didn’t want him. And once he did it, I said, “You do that. Your sales are gonna go up.” You’re in Santiago. Most people are in tobacco. He’s like, “Oh!” His wife yelled at him. But once he did that, he’s like, “I should have done this like five years ago.” Like, I told you.

– You’re welcome.

– You’re welcome. You owe me money, now.

– Now, I get to rent that for free. Have a little party on your dime.

– They give me a discount. That’s it.

– Discounts called free.

– Yeah, for free. But yeah, there’s places that I just don’t…

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-A friend of mine, he’s like, “Oh, I’m looking about buying a condo on the beach in the Dominican Republic.” I was like, “All right.” And he’s telling me, “Oh, I’m looking at this place.” I’m like, “Don’t. Don’t buy it.”

– [Rob Gagner] Can’t smoke cigars there.

– I was like, “You can’t smoke cigars there.” He was like, “What?” Again, he’s like, “I thought you could smoke anywhere in the D.R.” It’s like, “Nope! It’s not like that.”

– [Rob Gagner] Especially with the associations.

– Exactly. We take you to places where you can smoke. Now, call this lady, this realtor, and tell her you are a smoker. And you wanna go to a place where you can smoke at the pool. These are your places, your options. There are only two locations.

– He’s buying a house or a condo based on being able to smoke at it.

– That’s what I told him.

– I absolutely love it!

– Yeah, I told him. You gotta be able to smoke. You’re a cigar smoker. When you go down there, who you gonna call? We’re cigar smokers. Oh yeah, if you’re gonna hang out with your wife and bunch of girls. Yeah, no problem.

– [Rob Gagner] Who even knew?

– What you gonna do? No, it’s not worth it. I just moved to a new condo, because back in the day, it was Litto Gomez living there. Tony lived there. A bunch of cigar people, guys from General Cigar. I’ve been there for almost 10 years. But back then, it was like 80% cigar people. And we all used to sit around in the back. We had a pool area and smoke. Once they all moved out, and all these other people were moving in, like New Yorkers and whatever, none of them smoke. I’m like the only one that smokes. They decided to like, get rid of the pool or something, whatever. And they did a thing for kids, and that’s fine for the kids. No smoking area, and they got smoking signs. Oh, you can’t smoke here. I’m like-

– [Rob Gagner] I’m out!

– I’m out. Jochy just built a tower. Eighty percent, Klaas Kelner lives there, he’s my neighbor. Eighty percent cigar people in there. I’m like, that’s where I’m going. Like pool, smoking area, closed in with AC, outside smoking area.

– [Rob Gagner] Love it!

– I’m like, yeah. Jochy, he was like, “Go with it.” It’s like, I didn’t look at the apartment. I was just like, “Where can I smoke?” It was like, “Oh yeah, that’s where. Now, show me the apartment. It has a balcony. I can smoke from my balcony, right?” “Yeah, yeah.” “All right. Where’s the paperwork?”

– [Rob Gagner] Yeah, I’ll do it.

– I’ll do it.

– [Rob Gagner] Sign me up.

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– I’m signing. I’m gonna put my apartment on Airbnb and get the hell out. I’m moving down. That’s what I’m doing. It’s not worth it.

– [Rob Gagner] No.

– I gotta smoke, you know?

– It’s too much part of the lifestyle.

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– Shit, my first wife, I was married twice. My first wife’s Dominican. She didn’t smoke. Worst 12 years of my life. Second wife, she’s Nicaraguan. Met her in the D.R. or in Nicaragua. She was like a roller. Smokes. Happy ever since.

– [Rob Gagner] Yeah!

– Happy ever since. You gotta find things in common.

– [Rob Gagner] Right.

– Or you could be with a woman that’s okay with you smoking, you know? There’s women who are like that.

– Right, she doesn’t have to smoke. My wife doesn’t smoke, but she’s okay-

– [Abe Flores] Okay that you smoke.

– with me smoking.

– Yeah! Not like, “Oh my God, you smell.” Or like, “Oh, put your clothes in the bag.” Things like that. She would do that to me. I’m like, “What? It’s my house!”

– Put my clothes in a bag. You have to undress in the garage, by the way. And then, come in. It’s like, “Yeah, no, I’m not doing that.”

– No, no. So, nah, ain’t happening. It’s quality of life.

– Quality of life. It’s a good quality of life with this cigar in hand, in my opinion. It’s the way I enjoy it. It’s the way, I’m sure, a lot of our listeners enjoy it, as well.

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-PDR Cigars. What does it stand for?

– Now, it stands for Puro Dominican Republic.

– What did he stand for before?

– Pinar Del Rio. Pinar Del Rio’s the region of Cuba where most of the tobacco seeds, you know, the best tobacco seeds have come from. So, when I started like, 17 years ago, I always smoked cigars. And I’m Dominican. And I was very into like Cuban and Cuban technique, and the whole historical portion of tobacco.

– [Rob Gagner] Sure.

– And most of the tobacco seeds, the good ones, Corojo, Corona 99, Criollo 98, Habano, Habano Vuelta Arriba. There’s a section of the United er, Cuba called Habano Vuelta Arriba and Habano Vuelta Abajo. So, I’ve been to Cuba many times before I was doing cigars, and I just fell in love with the whole thing. I wanted to… Back then, I was really, really focused on that. Pinar Del Río. And we were called Pinar Del Río. The company, I trademarked it. I was like, “Aw man, no one already trademarked this?” And I launched the company as Pinar Del Río. As things evolve, and I matured, I mean, now I’m 45, 46 in two months. And when I started, I was 28 producing, yeah.

– [Rob Gagner] Wow!

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– So, things have changed a lot. You know, I became a member of Procigar about six years ago. Yeah, six years ago. We’re presenting Procigar, a Dominican association, the best producers in the Dominican Republic, and doing the festivals and people really loving what we’re doing. And I got more and more deeper in my country, my culture, what our heritage is of tobacco, and what we’re about. Henke Kelner taught me a lot. I call him the guru.

– Yes!

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– I told this to Greg Mottola. I was like, “I started listening to Gospel of Henke.” That’s what I call it. And he always talks about the Indian Taínos. You know, when Christopher Columbus, they taught him, they already knew tobacco. They already started doing pipas in the… And I was like, “Oh!” I learned all this stuff that I didn’t know before, because before that, in the Dominican Republic, there’s no books. There’s no heritage. Like there’s no… Nobody’s really teaching you a lot of this stuff.

– [Rob Gagner] Right!

– Like in the past.

– Especially about tobacco heritage, Because like you said, it’s all coming from Cuba.

– [Abe Flores] It’s all coming from Cuba!

– They came from Cuba to come over here.

– Exactly.

– Or D.R., I should say.

– Well, D.R. So you see a lot of that things happening.

– But now, it’s big enough. or it’s had a long enough longevity, that now it’s like you said, you’re learning about Dominican Republic’s role in cigars and how vast it is and how that changes. Because like you said, you can’t just take whatever came from Cuba and then replicate it in the D.R. It’s not gonna be the same. The soil is different. The way the tobacco reacts is all different, right?

– [Abe Flores] Exactly, yeah.

– So, now you’re learning all this from Henke.

– No, it’s taken me, I evolved.

– [Rob Gagner] Right, you’re learning-

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– Even my blends have evolved. My cigar’s tobaccos have evolved. My flavor profiles evolved. Before I wanted to do so many things or tobaccos with so many different cigars, with so many different seeds and types. And I used to do things with seven and eight different, like half a leaf, half a leaf. Now it’s about more like stability, complexity, consistency, you know? That’s what I focus on now.

– [Rob Gagner] I love it.

– And I think people need to, why you drink the beer that you always drink? Why? Tastes the same.

– You know what you’re gonna get when you drink it.

– You know the feeling. You know what you’re gonna get, but you all need to have the feeling of it. When you pop that beer in your mouth, it’s like, you know that feeling. It’s like home. So, that’s the thing is if a cigar is always different or changing all the time, or just really not comfortable, you know? You’re gonna try it once and then, maybe twice, and then that’s it. What makes a successful brand is to be consistent, to be consistent all the time!

– [Rob Gagner] Right.

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– You know what I’m saying? You have to have consistent tobacco, consistent packaging, consistent rolling. And that’s what makes a cigar to last longer and longer, longer. Why people still buy Macanudos?

– [Rob Gagner] Right.

– Still tastes the same.

– [Rob Gagner] Right!

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– From like 25, 30 years ago. It still tastes the same. Romeo.

– [Rob Gagner] Right?

– It still tastes the same.

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– I know every time I pick up a Henry Clay, I know what I’m getting.

– You know what you’re getting. Every time.

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– [Rob Gagner] Or Saint Luis Rey.

– Saint Luis, you know what you get.

– [Rob Gagner] Every time.

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– It doesn’t change. I think what makes these companies successful is the inventory tobacco, and to be able to deliver the same tobacco, the same flavor profile time after time, after time. What makes a Padrón, a Padrón? You could grab a Padrón now, and smoke a Padrón 10 years from now, and it’s still the same! You know? So that’s what makes you a successful brand, to be able to carry that. It took me a while to understand that, to be honest with you. Because I just wanted to do so much. I was like a kid in a candy store, and I saw all this tobacco.

– [Rob Gagner] Right.

– And I wanted to play around with so much. And you know, now it’s about now delivering that flavor. And in 10 years smoking, and it’s like yup, that’s the 10th or that’s 1878, or that’s that… It’s gonna taste the same all the time. So, I limited the farms. I limited the companies that buy the wrappers from. Same people. That’s it. Three guys, four guys, that’s it. One for Mexico, one for Ecuador, one for Connecticut, filler, same thing; one guy for filler, that’s it. One farmer, that’s it.

– [Rob Gagner] Love it.

– He has enough diversity for me with different seed types, and that’s it. Don’t change, keep it like that, and do it.

– When did you start the company?

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– The company actually started before, in 2004. It was called Don Leoncio. So, it’s like that bar in New Orleans. There’s a bar in New Orleans on Canal Street. called Don Leoncio’s. They were my partners, Juan, Luis, Ysidoro Rodriguez. They were three brothers.

– [Rob Gagner] Okay.

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– So, I was working for a company called Tinder Box.

– Tinder Box! Yeah!

– I worked for Tinder Box International. They were the big, not a retail store.

– They were like over 300 retailers.

– [Abe Flores] Yeah, it got to 400.

– Over 400 retailers all across the United States.

– Yeah, they were a big chain. So, I helped them. I ran their internet, the warehouse distribution, and I came in as a programmer.

– [Rob Gagner] Sure.

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– I always wanted to get into cigars. I sold cigars in Manhattan, and I sold cigars in Massachusetts. I grew up in Mass.

– [Rob Gagner] You grew up in Massachusetts?

– Yeah. Salem, Massachusetts.

– [Rob Gagner] Salem?

– Yeah, all the witches.

– [Rob Gagner] Okay! There you go. I love it.

– Dated a witch.

– [Rob Gagner] Yeah! I love Boston, by the way.

– Oh, Boston is great. I mean, I love Boston. I loved living in Salem. I mean, you have Marblehead right there. Swampscott right there on the side. Every weekend we would be at the beach walking up the boulevard over there. It’s like, it was awesome, you know?

– Were you born in the D.R.?

– No, I was born in Queens, New York.

– Queens, New York? Your parents from the D.R.?

– Yeah, my parents from the D.R. So I left, I was born and I left when I was two, back to the D.R. Went to Bonao. I grew up with grandparents. He grew tobacco and was the farmer.

– [Rob Gagner] Okay.

– And then, came back when I was 12, 13 years old to Salem.

– [Rob Gagner] Got it.

– Yeah. Spoke no English.

– Spoke no English?

– At all.

– At 12 years old.

– Yeah.

– That’s gotta be hard, man.

– Yeah, it was hard.

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– How did you learn English?

– When you come to the United States, a lot of high schools will have a English as a second language, ESL class. So, you start with a lot of Latinos or Asians, or whatever. Funny enough, that year was a bunch of Russian Jews that came from Croatia.

– [Rob Gagner] Sure.

– Something happened in Russia.

– [Rob Gagner] Like a refugee program, almost.

– Yeah, it was like a… There were Russians and Filipinos and Dominicans. It was funny mix. And, you know, they take you slowly to learn English. I got to high school, and I was able to go full program, half and half. And eventually go straight to… The funny thing enough, when I graduated high school, I was number 9 in my class from 285 kids.

– Number nine, academically?

– Academically.

– For a non-English speaking kid.

– Yeah.

– That’s a huge achievement. Nice work!

– They came up to them. No, I had too many potheads in my high school class.

– So, the competition pool wasn’t very high.

– [Abe Flores] No, it wasn’t that high. Trust me, the five percentile, we were fighting against each other. The rest, they didn’t care at all. They just smoked, drank a lot of beer, keg stands, out on the weekends. I mean, we were in Massachusetts. We got a bunch of, you know, we have forests. Yeah, people go into woods, Gallows Hills. There’s like a bunch of woods and stuff like that. And people go up and up in the hill, people would bring kegs. And like-

– Keggers.

– Keggers.

– Parties.

– Parties and drinks almost every day. And people just drank and smoked pot all the time up in Mass. Oh, yeah. There’s a reason like, when they legalized pot, all my high school friends are like, “Oh my God, thank God! I’m not gonna go to jail now.” I had a Zoom call with my college fraternity, and we just like did a Zoom thing, you know?

– Yeah.

– Most of them live in Massachusetts, still. And I’m smoking a cigar. It’s like, “Oh, hey dude, you’re smoking a cigar.” And they’re like, half of them like… You know, wrong smoke. It’s like, “oh my God!” It’s like, “Dude, it’s legal, now!”

– We could do this now. Just like you’re smoking that cigar legally, we can do this.

– We can do this, too. I’m like, oh my God! And they can’t fire me. I’m like, oh my God! Like, Jesus Christ. The world has changed.

– Yeah, the world is changing.

– World’s changing drastically, man.

– Here it comes. Buckle up.

– But yeah, I mean, I did that. I went to work for Tinder Box after a while. I learned a lot. And these guys Juan and Ysidoro, I met them when I used to come to D.R. buying tobacco, buying cigars.

– [Rob Gagner] Yup.

– And I was getting to a point, I mean, I was young. I was 29, 27, 28 years old, and they said, I would have three years for Tinder Box already. And they’re like, “Come on board.” So, they offered me a partnership, and all I had to do is just teach them.

– Sure.

– Because they were rollers, but they didn’t know about packaging, marketing, blending. Really, they just rolled cigars.

– Right.

– Bought tobacco and rolled ’em. But they didn’t understand you needed to give the consumer more than just rolled cigars, you know?

– [Rob Gagner] Right.

– So, I didn’t know how they talked me into it. I left Tinder Box, and I started hustling. And I started going down, making blends. They had a little factory, like six people in it and that’s it.

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-And then, we grew it and grew it. I almost quit like five, six times. And then…

– You almost quit five to six times?

– [Abe Flores] Yes.

– What made you wanna quit?

– It was a lot of work and-

– [Rob Gagner] Yeah, it is a lot of work to start a company.

– It’s a lot of work to start a company. And then, the beginning is a lot of money.

– [Rob Gagner] Yeah!

– And you could lose your shirt like that, you know?

– Really? Were there multiple times where you’re like, “Dude, I’m losing my shirt. I gotta get out.”

– Yeah, there’s been like three times, after I almost quit, it’s been like three times that I almost lost the business. I almost went out of… like something changed, FDA, well this. Now things are going up in a boom, you know?

– So multiple times you were thinking, I just gotta toss the towel in, take my loss, and get out.

– [Abe Flores] Yeah.

– What made you come back to I’ll stick it out? I’ll stick it out. I’ll stick it out. Three times you said.

– Somebody always comes in and says, “Wait it out.”

– Anyone specific you wanna name, or no?

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– One guy that really was there for me the whole entire time was Jochy Blanco.

– Really?

– Yeah he’s always was like, a rock for me. Like in the sense of don’t throw the towel, you know what I’m saying? I’ll help you out, advising me what I was doing wrong, whatever, what to fix, what to this and that. Another person, Henke. Henke really like looked at things more globally, worldwide. So his thing was more like, don’t just focus so much on the United States. Focus on building other markets, so if one market falls, you still are good everywhere else.

– [Rob Gagner] Right!

– So my strategy the past like seven, eight years, is just been out trying, not just be PDR United States, be a global brand.

– [Rob Gagner] Right.

– Right before the pandemic, I went to the China Festival; me, Litto Gomez, Carlito Fuentes, Jochy Blanco. And to sell into China, you have to be assigned. And there was only, they assigned five cigar manufacturers. I’m one of them.

– [Rob Gagner] Really?

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– Worldwide. So you have the Cubans and only five Dominicans, and that’s it. Selling, have a contract to sell into China and they give you a quota. So, the government themselves buy all the cigars and then, they sell it to the shops in mainland China.

– Wow!

– So, I’m one of five. That would have not happened if I wasn’t in Procigar.

– Sure. Procigar and the people in it.

– And the people in it.

– have mentored you to keep going.

– Yes. So, things have changed. Financially, we’re doing good, great. I mean, I was scared for a while because the pandemic, but things bounced back real quick. I’m not producing as much, but I did changes in the pricing and everything. So, now financially, we’re doing well, even if we’re producing less.

– Right. Well, that’s good.

– [Abe Flores] Yeah.

– You wanna sell what you produce. So, you’re selling more of what you produce, instead of sitting on it.

– Exactly. Before I used to sit on it, wait at a lower margin. Now, it’s like everything I produced is sold.

– It’s exactly what you want.

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– Yeah. So, I mean, Jochy was a good guy. Henke was another person.

– Yeah, when they sit you down like that and they tell you, is there any times where you’re just offended by what they say? Or is it kinda like, you know when you get sat down and they tell you something, that it’s your time to listen up?

– Oh yeah. I mean, I always, listen. I’ve never been a person where-

– But it’s kind of prideful, right? If somebody’s telling you how to correct something that you built, it’s like, you have to be mature enough-

– [Abe Flores] To take it.

– to listen and take that criticism, and move forward with it.

– [Abe Flores] Yeah.

– Because it’s coming from a good space.

– Yes, so, I mean, with them, things have totally changed. My whole company has changed. I’m happier. They really guided me much better. Carrillo also, really focused on this, this, and this, and you’ll be great. You know what I’m saying? Even if you make 10 thousand cigars a day, you’ll be fine. You know what I’m saying?

– [Rob Gagner] Right.

– So it’s like, and that’s what I’m doing. Now, I don’t care if I only make 15 thousand cigars a day. Okay.

– It’s not a numbers race.

– It’s not a numbers race.

– No.

– Now it’s like, it’s not about volume anymore. It’s about quality now.

– Yeah! Now we’re here.

– Yeah, it’s about quality.

– Now we’re here.

– Provide quality. Don’t provide croquetas. Do quality, you know what I’m saying? Don’t be Budweiser. There’s already a Budweiser, you know? Be a-

– Well, you’re kind of being Budweiser because you know that every time I pick up this 10th Anniversary, I know what I’m gonna get.

– [Abe Flores] Yeah.

– It’s not gonna change on me. Hey, you cracked a Budweiser, and it tastes like an IPA. Whoa, wrong beer!

– But that’s what I’m focusing on. Thank God things are different. Things are better.

– [Rob Gagner] I love it.

– There’s a huge demand, now. I don’t know how much longer. I think this whole thing is gonna last about two more years, and then things will normalize again. But I think it’s changed the culture, how things are as I think you’re right. It’s gonna be hard for people to go back to going where they were. Because now that it’s quality of life now has changed.

– Right!

– You know, their quality of life has changed. Now they’re dedicating more time. And that’s something that Americans were lacking on.

– Oh, huge!

– [Abe Flores] Hugely, hugely! Americans didn’t have that.

– Stop. Slow down.

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– They don’t have that. They don’t. Most 90% of Americans did not have that until now. Until they were forced to. And now they’re like, “Oh no, #!*% I’d rather work home.” I got a cousin of mine that called me up. She’s like, “Oh, man!” She’s in Long Island. She’s a graphic designer. Was like, “Man, I love your life. Go to the beach, you do this. You make cigars. You know, you work. And then if you feel like taking day off, that’s it.” And I was like, “Yeah.” And she lives in Long Island, and she works for a company. And like, “They want me to go back to work now in the office.” I’m like, “All right, how much you get paid?” “Oh, I get paid like a hundred thousand dollars.” “Okay, that’s a hundred thousand before tax, right?” She’s like, “Yeah, yeah.” “Okay, tell them to pay you 80,000 as an international contractor. Pay you, deposit into a bank account in the Dominican Republic; separate bank account in the Dominican Republic. Now you keep 80,000. For them, it’s less. You don’t have to pay taxes now because you’re independent, and tell them you’re gonna work from home in the Dominican Republic. And you pay your own flight, maybe once a month to go and see, you know, a week, whatever. Once a month, every two months, if you have to meet the boss or a client, or whatever, you come up. Do that.” And she did it. She’s happy.

– [Rob Gagner] Wow!

– She did it like six, seven months ago. I’m like, I should’ve done this a long time ago. She asked for advice.

– Quality of life, man.

– [Abe Flores] Quality of life.

– So much, but you spoke about Romy and Fouad. Fouad said the Mason Code is kind of God first, family second, then business.

– [Abe Flores] Exactly.

– And Americans flipped the last two all the time. It’s business and family last. And if you flip those two, it can get real hairy, quickly.

– [Abe Flores] Exactly.

– No matter what your family’s like, you know, family might just be you. But like you said, are you happier? If you always put your job first and not you, and what you wanna do in certain situations, you’re not gonna be happy.

– It’s like that phrasing of you live to work or work to live?

– [Rob Gagner] Right.

– Which one you rather?

– Yeah.

– You know?

– I’d rather live to work. And I do live to work. I love it.

– You gotta do what you love. You gotta love work, but it shouldn’t be all about work and killing yourself. And then spending a little time, maybe once a year, you could take a five day vacation.

– [Rob Gagner] Right.

– It’s insane. I remember working for a software company. I’ve worked in dot-com. I worked for like pets.com, like when it came out. I lived in the whole dot-com boom. I did all that stuff. They worked my ass. I had like, no time. When I worked at Tinder Box, I worked almost seven days a week building code all the time, managing the site. I had no time at all! At all. Now? I got time.

– [Rob Gagner] Right.

– I got time.

– Quality of life.

– It’s quality of life. Quality of life. That’s more important. In the end, I think it’s better.

– Oh, yeah! Yeah, otherwise what? At the end of a life you go, “Shoot.”

– You can have all the millions of dollars. When you die, you think you could take them with you?

– You got nothing. I used to be a funeral director and they always said, “There’s no hitch on the back of the hearse with a trailer.”

– [Abe Flores] At all.

– None.

– [Abe Flores] Nothing.

– There’s no trailer on the back of it. There’s no hitch. Nothing’s coming behind us. It’s just you and the ground. That’s what’s next.

– So you can bust your ass. Why you want to kill yourself so much working, working, working, working, working.

– [Rob Gagner] Right.

– And try to get all this stuff and all these things, and millions and millions of dollars or whatever. You’ll just be rich or whatever. And when you die, you can’t take none of it! Enjoy life, take a vacation.

– [Rob Gagner] Right.

– Do this. Hit the globe and go, “Oh, England? I’m gonna go. #!*% it.” Do it! See the world. Experience something. Most Americans don’t have passports. That drives me insane!

– [Rob Gagner] Really?

– Like most Americans don’t have passports at all! When I hear that, it’s like, “I don’t got a passport.” Like, “You don’t have a passport? How you don’t have a passport?”

– Do you travel globally, often?

– [Abe Flores] Yeah, yeah.

– You try to get out?

– Yeah, I like traveling.

– It gives you a different frame of reference for how people live. Like when I went to Spain, loved it! Siestas in the afternoon when it’s really hot.

– [Abe Flores] Yes!

– Going back, we went to dinner at 9:30 and no one was out. I was like, “Where is everyone?”

– [Abe Flores] It’s too early.

– Like, “Oh, they’re not coming until 11, maybe midnight.” We were walking to restaurants, and I would think, this place is not making any money. We’d be going back to go to bed-

– [Abe Flores] Packed! Packed!

– Packed! And that’s like their appetizer, the tapas bars. I’m like, “Are they gonna go and have another meal after this?” They’re like, “Oh yeah.” Wow!

– Yeah, you start lunch at two.

– Yeah!

– Lunchtime is two o’clock. Two to five.

– Yeah, two to five.

– Two to five.

– That’s a big lunch hour.

– So, you’re gonna eat, go home, pass out, go back to work at five.

– [Rob Gagner] Right!

– Yeah, then you could go to work until nine or eight, whatever, three more hours, boom, boom! And then, go home. And then, you have dinner at like 10, 12 o’clock at night.

– Then, you don’t start until 10 o’clock in the morning.

– And you don’t start working until 10 o’clock in the morning. I’m telling you. That’s life. I love it! I mean, I love Spain. Spain is great. Italy, oh my God!

– [Rob Gagner] Italy?

– Oh, that’s where I’m gonna move.

– [Rob Gagner] Yeah?

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– I’m gonna retire in Florence. That’s my goal.

– [Rob Gagner] I love it!

– I love Florence.

– What do you like so much about Italy?

– The people are great. I just love the wine. I love the cheese, and they’re just like so happy, and so loving and stuff like that. You just meet an Italian on the streets and like, “Hey!” He’s like, “Here’s a cigar.” “Oh! Grazie!” They’re like, “Oh, come here!” Oh, come to my house!” They open the door like, “Hey!” And like, feed you. I’m like, “Oh my God! I just gave you a cigar.”

– [Rob Gagner] I don’t even know you and I just met you!

– I just met you, like you’re friends for life.

– [Rob Gagner] Right.

– Every person I met in Italy, we’re friends for life. I’m like, “Call me up.” They’d send me texts, “Hey! You don’t call me. You don’t love me.” I’m like, “I just met you.” That’s how they get. They’re very clingy. They’re just friendly, you know? You don’t get that here.

– [Rob Gagner] I love that!

– You know? I lived in our apartment in New York and then like, I barely saw my neighbors. You know what I’m saying?

– [Rob Gagner] Yeah!

– You go, you see each other. “Hey, good morning.”

– Yeah, who are you?

– [Abe Flores] Who are you?

– “I live in the same building as you, sir.” “Oh, wow.”

– No, you don’t do that. You go to Italy, these cobblestone streets in Florence. You see those little bars and like the apartments and stuff. All the neighbors will get together, like sit in front. It’s like Spanish Harlem with all the Dominicans and stuff. It’s like very close to my culture.

– [Rob Gagner] Yeah!

– And I like it. They’re all sitting together. You’re smoking cigarettes or whatever. You know what I’m saying? Drinking little beers and all of the whole neighborhood is right there. And I like that! You know, and space, same way feel like that. So, I just like that culture.

– [Rob Gagner] Yeah!

– I just love Florence. For me, Florence is the #!*%. I just love it.

– Abe will be in Florence, Italy, by the time he’s retired.

– [Abe Flores] Yes.

– I love it. Or maybe before. Maybe before.

– I’ll be there soon, but I gotta go-

– There you go.

– Do some events, so.

– Awesome! Anything that we should be looking for from PDR or is it, basically, just look for the consistency in our blends and try the next one that comes across?

– Try the next PDR. If you haven’t tried PDR, try it again, revisit a PDR. It’s gonna be a whole different profile. It’s not the PDR that you used to smoke 15 years ago. So, it’s a different PDR. We’re all different now.

– It definitely is. It’s a different PDR, and I love it. And I appreciate you telling the story and having been a little vulnerable on the maturity that you’ve gone through. All of us go through it. We all go through it. Maturity and life. I think you don’t really become really who you are until you’re between twenties and forties. It’s such a pivotal time for you to start shaping who you are and picking up things that you want to change about yourself. Make yourself better.

– Take some.

– So, 20 years in the business already.

– Yes.

– Or 20 plus.

– About eighteen, now.

– Eighteen?

– Yeah.

– So, you still got some life in you to create some great cigars for us.

– Yeah, I still got life!

– [Rob Gagner] Hell yeah!

– Yeah. If God wills it, we’ll see.

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– Pick up a PDR cigar. If they wanna know more about your blends, is it pdrcigars.com?

– Yes, it is.

Pdrcigars.com. Ask your local retailer. They’re probably in there. You just glanced over them or you need to revisit it. Because you had an old PDR, and now it’s all different. So Abe, I appreciate you coming, sitting down, talking with me, telling me your story; And just having a good time, smoking a cigar and telling stories.

– Thank you very much for having me, my friend.

– [Rob Gagner] Yeah, man.

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– I hope you all learned a little bit because Abe has a lot of wisdom to share. And as always, protect your cigars with Boveda. There’s no better way to just simply smoke cigars, enjoy cigars, and forget about maintaining them. Go to bovedainc.com if you need anything, pdrcigars.com. This is wrapping up another great episode. Thank you for joining us!

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If you haven’t had a PDR cigar lately, you might want to give it another smoke. Heads up, the packaging is revamped, too. Look for the boutique brand’s new signature foot band that protects the lightable end of its cigar. Our PDR recommendation? Try the re-blended Flores y Rodriguez 10th Anniversary Reserva Limitada, which is pictured below.

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(6:31) Best place to buy Cuban cigars in Europe

(8:13) What cigars you should try if you go to Cuba

(10:50) How COVID affected the cigar industry

(12:33) Does smoking cigars influence what you do for fun now?

(15:05) What to watch out for before investing in a vacation property if you’re a cigar smoker

(17:20) You can rent Abe Flores’s apartment in the D.R. on Airbnb!

(17:29) Dating advice for cigar aficionados—find a mate who likes cigars (or at least, doesn’t mind them)

(20:31) What Abe Flores learned from master blender Henke Kelner

(23:02) What changes to make to stay in business post-pandemic

(25:26) Remember the Tinder Box? (Did you know Abe Flores coded for the cigar retailer?!)

(30:44) Why Abe Flores almost shut down PDR

(31:37) What Abe Flores learned from Tabacalera Palma CEO Jochy Blanco

(32:25) Selling cigars beyond the United States—you can buy PDR cigars in China

(34:09) Finding mentors and listening to their business advice

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