Say Goodbye to the Cigars at Villazon of Cofradia

It’s always sad when an era comes to an end. Whether it’s sports, business, or music, when greatness sings its swan song, it’s hard to even imagine life being the same. And so goes the story for the famed Villazon factory in Cofradia, Honduras. On December 11, 2009, the operation closed its doors as a cigar manufacturing facility, moving its revered brands six hours away to Danli.

Vil.3Villazon, owned by General Cigars, was home to such legendary brand names as Punch, Hoyo de Monterrey, El Rey Del Mundo, and a host of JR premium lines. But like the rest of the world, the economy and imposed taxes have claimed their latest victims, and hundreds of dedicated people in that region of the Central American country are out of work, and God only knows how they’ll be able to survive.

As many of you know, in April of 2008, I spent several days at this facility, with Lew Rothman, as we were guests of then General CEO, Daniel Nunez. In less than half a week I developed an appreciation for cigars and the people who make them, like I had never known. The time, sweat, and dedication involved is fascinating, and we here in America could take an invaluable lesson from the people of this culture and their unrelenting work ethic.

Vil.1The factory floor operations was run by a man named Manuel Zavala, who has thankfully been moved to Danli. I interviewed Manuel through an interpreter (a very cool and different experience) and was truly blown away by his love for tobacco, his company and his employees – of whom I’m sure he is heart broken over. The guy cared like not many bosses I have ever seen in my lifetime. The cigar making biz is a team operation, relying on many different parts to act as a whole. Manuel spent sixteen-hour days on the premises, overseeing all phases of the operation, while personally dealing one-on-one with those he felt needed the attention. The man had tears in his eyes, several times during our interview – tears of an unrelenting pride that was infectious to anyone in his presence. And let me correct myself, Manuel actually spent 24/7 on the premises, as he, his wife and children lived in a home on the compound, provided by General. Don’t see that in the U.S. of A.

Vil.2After touring the plant and meeting just about everyone who worked there, my heart goes out to these wonderful people. They are all cigar people and I’m not sure how they’ll be able to recover. That area of Honduras is a headquarters for Chiquita Banana, as well as fish farming. More than half of the world’s tilapia consumption originates there, and at least that helps their fragile economy. One good thing is that the grounds in Cofradia will remain a tobacco processing and warehousing facility, which will be able to retain some of the employees, and, can be used again as a manufacturing plant if needed. One can only hope, but with the state of the industry, with its egregious taxes and Smoke Nazi shakedowns, it’s hard to imagine that a comeback will ever take place.

It is the end of an era. Villazon of Cofradia made some of the world’s legendary cigars for many decades, and within an instant, it becomes a memory of what once was – a time when a man’s right to chose a premium smoke was accepted and not looked upon as an act of immoral disgust.

Vil.4a.jphSo I ask you to light your next cigar in the memory of the people of Cofradia. Day in and out they gave their hearts and souls so you and I could enjoy one of the greatest passion that man has ever known. The attached photos of the plant and Manuel were all taken by yours truly. This last one is of me, Lew, and Daniel at Pat’s Steakhouse, in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. (The bulletproof wearing, AK 47 carrying bodyguards were cropped from the photo.)

Long live Villazon.

Tommy Z.

JR Cigars Blog with the Zman

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!