Factory on Texas City’s Sixth Street produces hand-rolled cigars
El Cubano Cigar Factory is the only licensed cigar manufacturer in the region, and now with a retail component, has become a popular destination on Texas City’s revived historic Sixth Street.
Father-and-son duo “Manny” and Manuel Lopez in 2000 founded the factory that appeals to cigar enthusiasts, men in particular, who seek a place to relax.
“It’s everything a guy could want,” retired peace officer Mike Land said as he savored a cigar and relaxed in one of the emporium’s luxurious leather chairs. “Manny offers a big-screen television with shows on cars, the stock market and sports, plus I can smoke hand-rolled cigars and enjoy good conversation. Why wouldn’t I want to be here?”
There are also stacks of cigar magazines, a fantasy football trophy, numerous cigar accessories and a large window into the factory area through which visitors can watch the workers rolling a variety of different cigars. Notably, there’s no visible clock.
“Although tobacco has been used since ancient times for medicinal and ceremonial purposes, today’s cigar smoker is usually just enjoying the pleasure and relaxation a cigar can offer,” Manny Lopez said.
Crediting high-quality tobacco and his workers’ skill, Lopez maintains that El Cubano’s products are as good if not better, than the highly coveted and much more expensive cigars being sold in Cuba.
“Cigar making is both a skill and an art, plus some science,” he said. “Every tobacco leaf is different, and a skilled cigar maker works by feel as much — or maybe more — than by sight. A quality cigar cannot be made by machine — it requires the touch of a human hand.”
Although all El Cubano’s workers learned their skills in Cuba, the tobacco used in the factory’s cigars is sourced from the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua and Ecuador, with the highest quality leaves coming from the Connecticut River Valley.
“That’s the only place in the United States that produces what is considered to be a premium cigar-quality tobacco,” he said. “The tobacco from other areas is of lesser quality and used mainly in cigarettes, where it is mixed with other ingredients.”
Cigars contain only tobacco, and, regardless of style or length, each of El Cubano’s cigars contains at least five different types. Seco is used for combustibility, viso for flavor and aroma, ligero for strength. There also is the binder and the wrapper, which Lopez considers the most important part of any cigar.
“The wrapper is the part you see — the most attractive and highest quality of all the tobaccos used — and it also contributes about 60 percent of the taste,” he said.
Of the 18 different blends of tobacco offered by El Cubano, the most popular is a mild Ecuadorean blend with a Connecticut wrapper. As with wine production, however, quality depends on both the quality of the ingredients plus the skill of the maker.
Lopez can tell just by watching workers for a few minutes whether they have the required passion to turn out a quality cigar, he said.
El Cubano’s employees include Tito Blanco, who began rolling cigars as a young teenager in 1959. Blanco’s skill and experience has not only provided him with a reliable source of income, but allowed him to participate in shows and demonstrations in such cities as London and Beijing. Adelida Prado and Livan Valdespino also say that cigar rolling has provided them an economic opportunity not afforded by many other occupations, plus they find the activity soothing and creative.
As Lopez recently admired the workers’ proficiency, he pointed out that there was a certain way they handled the leaves that revealed a special connection with the tobacco itself.
“You don’t have to smoke cigars to find satisfaction and pride in making them — in fact, many cigar makers never light one up,” Lopez said. “But if you don’t love it, if you don’t have the passion, you can’t make a good cigar.”