Advertisement
  1. News

The last cigar factory in Tampa keeps rolling

Aleida Gonzalez stacks "Factory Throwout " cigars after pulling them from the machine that packs and rolls them. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
Aleida Gonzalez stacks "Factory Throwout " cigars after pulling them from the machine that packs and rolls them. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published Apr. 26, 2018

YBOR CITY -- History lives here, inside the J.C. Newman Cigar Co.

Machines manufactured in the 1930s are still used to pack and roll the cigars, and the sights and smells are throwbacks. Tobacco bits litter the weathered wooden floor, and a pungent odor punctuates the air as workers remove leaves from burlap bags.

Tampa was once home to 150 cigar factories, which churned out millions of cigars in the early part of the 20th century and shipped them worldwide.

J.C. Newman, with its 135 employees, is the sole survivor, even though it's not an Ybor original.

The company moved from Cleveland in 1954 because founder Julius Caesar Newman was eager to be closer to Cuba and its supply of tobacco. Newman took over the E. Regensburg and Sons Cigar Factory at 2701 N 16th St.

Newman's grandson Eric, who is 69, now runs the company.

He has weathered changes in attitudes and regulations.

Starting in August, the FDA may require more detailed labeling about ingredients and manufacturing processes, a costly step for a business working with small margins.

"These regulations could put us out of business," Newman said, though he's hoping a business-friendly Trump administration will make a difference. "What we don't need at this point of our history is more government regulation."

Restrictions on lighting up in most public places have already hurt business, he said, as has shifting feelings toward smoking.

But he and his brother Bobby, who is executive vice president, hope to pass the business on to the next generation. He can't imagine the city without a cigar factory.

"Cigars are to Tampa what automobiles are to Detroit, what wine is to Napa Valley, what Mickey Mouse is to Orlando," he said.

His sales pitch these days revolves around relaxation and ritual.

Newman partakes a few times a month.

"To smoke a cigar, you have to have the time and be in the right mindset," he said. "Everything else is shut out of your mind."

J.C. Newman cranks out about 60,000 "Factory Throwout" cigars a day on those old machines. Modern adjustments to the factory include halogen lights and a mister system to keep the humidity between 60 and 70 percent.

The company is reviving the tradition of hand-rolled cigars, with two craftsmen producing a new line called "The American." A box of 10 will go for about $180 at high-end tobacco lounges and stores later this year.

The Newman building now sits amid the creep of gentrification and craft breweries, and cars speed by on Interstate 4, muffling the sound from its iconic clock tower.

During a recent interview, Eric Newman looked up as the bell chimed on the hour. Once, you could hear it all over Ybor City, and everyone knew where the noise was coming from.

"Listen, El Reloj is speaking to us," he said. "This is the iconic sound, the heartbeat and soul of Ybor City."

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

  1. A large monitor displaying a map of Asia and a tally of total coronavirus cases, deaths, and recovered, is visible behind Vice President Mike Pence, center, and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, left, as they tour the Secretary's Operations Center following a coronavirus task force meeting at the Department of Health and Human Services, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) [ANDREW HARNIK  |  AP]
  2. In this photo made available by the Florida Highway patrol shows confiscated drugs following the arrest of two men Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, Santa Rosa County, Fla. Authorities confiscated methamphetamine, cocaine and fentanyl. (Florida Highway Patrol via AP) [AP]
  3. Michael Stevens, 28, left, works to stay warm with friend Cash Holland, 21, right, outside the Boys and Girls Club of Tarpon Springs' cold night shelter on Wednesday, January 22, 2020, where the homeless men were among 28 people who took refuge from cooler weather which dipped to 36 degrees in north Pinellas County overnight. The shelter is funded through Pinellas County's Health and Human Services department and provided shelter and a hot breakfast for those who came. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  TImes]
  4. Tyler Parker-Dipeppe, of Spring Hill, is accused of taking part in a neo-Nazi campaign to harass and intimidate activists and journalists, including one based in Tampa. [Pinellas County Jail]
  5. Trader Peter Mazza works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle) [CRAIG RUTTLE  |  AP]
  6. Visitors take in the sun and sand at Clearwater Beach last year. Tourism officials say visits remain at record-breaking levels and have not been curtailed by coronavirus.
  7. A contractor with Pinellas County uses a tiller to fluff sand on the shoreline of Redington Shores beach Thursday. The tiller fluffs the sand making it easier for sea turtles to dig nests to lay eggs. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times]
  8. Brian Baumgartner, who played Kevin on "the Office," partnered with Bush's Beans to bring the chili his character was famous for spilling to life. [Bush's Beans]
  9. Workers are seen at West Platt Street and South Dakota Avenue along the railroad tracks in Tampa Thursday. This week, CSX Transportation has been working on railroad crossings in South Tampa, frustrating local drivers. [MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE  |  Times]
  10. Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, has pushed for changes to Florida's restraint and seclusion laws for nearly a decade.  (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) [Associated Press (2016)]
  11. Windhaven Insurance is closing its office in the Anchor Plaza office park and laying off 61 Tampa employees. (Google street view) [Google street view]
  12. Trader Peter Tuchman works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle) [CRAIG RUTTLE  |  AP]
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement