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“Rocky” Patel and Premium Cigar – Part-1

Rocky Patel knowing as a majority share of family business cigar industry “Rocky Patel Premium Cigars Inc.”  Born in India on February 26, 1961 with the name Rakesh Patel.

Rakesh Patel was a Mumbai resident and a Doon School laddie before his family moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA. He was 14. The University of Wisconsin, law school and a move to Hollywood followed, where he represented movietown’s heavy hitters. That’s where Patel acquired a taste for the preferred smoke of Groucho and Guevara.

All those hours Patel spent smoking with the boys — Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and gang — in the town’s most exclusive smoking club, the Grand Havana Room, is bound to do just that – Rocky is one of its founding members. Cigar nights at the former California governor’s restaurant ‘Schatzi’ became a regular affair. Soon Patel found himself investing in a cigar venture with an associate. This was the early 90s.

How Rocky Rolls

However, everybody and his sister were jumping in to the business and the market was flooded with soulless, machine-made “Cubans”. By 1996, about 95 per cent of the newborn cigar barons were out of business. Patel smelled the opportunity and struck out on his own. He made countless rounds of tobacco fields and facilities in Latin America.

It’s a business where Latin heritage and last names matter. Indian American Patel knew it would be a tough business to crack. But nothing he and his three employees working out of the garage couldn’t handle.

Rocky Patel introduced the “Indian Tabac” blend in the middle of 1990s.  Rocky Patel entered the cigar business through a less conventional path than many of today’s prominent cigar-makers who are often continuing a family tradition that’s been in place for generations. In the early 1990s, Rocky was working as an entertainment and product liability lawyer in Los Angeles.

While dabbling in various investment ventures, Rocky was approached with a business plan to manufacture cigars. It was still the early days of the cigar boom, and Rocky was still apprehensive. However, the investment was made, and the inaugural Indian Tabac cigars rolled in Honduras began to flourish on the American market.

The Indian Tabac Years

In 1996, Patel attended his first industry trade show where he debuted Indian Tabac Cigar Company, his first brand. Although Patel is Indian, the company was named in reference to the Indian Motorcycle brand to which he paid a royalty for use of the name. The cigars were an instant hit with retailers who clamored for the entire product they could get their hands on in the midst of the Cigar Boom.

Patel was successful in establishing Indian Tabac Cigar Co. as a premium brand by pumping his product into the marketplace and making nonstop visits to retailers. By 2003, after years of steady growth, Rocky made a deliberate decision to shift his focus away from “Indian Tabac” to a new line of cigars – his eponymous Rocky Patel Vintage Series – a sizable risk at the time. Rocky wanted to leverage “Indian Tabac” exclusively as a “catalog” or online brand – one that could be sold over the internet at a significant discount – and introduce a fresh line of premium cigars for the retail channel.  Although “Indian Tabac” was officially discontinued in 2015, building the brand into a success was a learning experience for Rocky.

True premium cigars can never be rushed into production. Rocky discovered the best cigar manufacturers had the best tobacco – and they represented an exclusive group. Because the highest quality tobacco is aged for very long periods of time, it is not easy to come by. He had to form relationships with a select group of tobacco brokers and growers and cigar factories to access the highest quality tobaccos. Secondly, Rocky learned to cut production quotas for his cigar rollers down to 250 cigars per roller per day to insure better and more consistent construction. Some rollers would notoriously crank out 400 or 500 cigars per day, but of widely varying quality and consistency. To realize his plan he looks and tried to find a perfect partner of cigar manufactory and tobacco grower in Latin America that finally he found partners in Honduras and Nicaragua.

Very lucky that Rocky Patel has a good partners in this business like; Nestor Plasencia family, ASP and, the Oliva family. It took a long time to gain the trust and acceptance of some of that major supplier.  The relationship among them is very good, so Rocky Patel allow having his own employees in charge of the fermentation, in charge of the construction. Certainly Rocky make all the blends himself —they have carte blanche at the factory, which is a nice thing.

Rocky Patel also knowing as a hard worker man, spend most his life on the road, either in the factories in Honduras and Nicaragua that he make his cigars, in the tobacco fields of Central America or in the many cigar shops that sell his wares.

He had to prove himself in order to get an acceptance of their products.  When he started, they making 150,000 cigars. In 2018, they rolled a little over 16 million cigars. It’s been quite a rapid amount of growth, especially from 1999 to 2000. Rocky Patel really had a big growth in the business since they changed the name from Indian Tabac Cigar Co. to Rocky Patel Premium Cigar Inc.  At that point they will only making around 1.75 million cigars. Rocky said in the interview with one of Cigar publishing.

Rocky Patel first graduation cigar is the (Indian Tabac Cigar Co.) Super Fuerte. It was one of the first rich, fuller-bodied cigars on the market. When Rocky Patel came out with that cigar there weren’t too many cigars with that boldness that richness, that character, all mixed in together. That was Rocky Patel groundbreaking cigar.  It is released in 1997.  At that time the manufacturing still doesn’t have a good control, the quality of product is not consistent.  The cigar really took off, and then it started tapering off because of inconsistency. Rocky said; “That’s when we decided we needed to have control of our manufacturing process, or that was going to happen with every brand that we make regardless of how good the brand is.”

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“Rocky” Patel and Premium Cigar – Part-2, The Factory