“I love this place. It’s the best thing that has happened to my life. It lives in my heart. I can’t imagine not working here. I’m not going anywhere.”
Aristo Torres Briones has worked at the Joya de Nicaragua factory for 34 years and is the senior bonchero (tobacco buncher). Then there’s Martha Gutierrez; she’s worked at the factory since 1969 where she began as a roller and has worked her way up to head of human resources.
These stories, and many more like them, are the lifeblood of this new book by Joya de Nicaragua and the lifeblood of Nicaragua itself. Theirs is a story of struggle and hardships, yet at the center of it all is hope, family, and redemption.
Joya spent more than two years putting together this gorgeous 204-page coffee-table book, employing the talents of British journalist Nick Hammond to write it, along with the help of Nicaragua’s top designers and photographers. It was a massive undertaking to tell the five-decade-long story of Nicaragua’s first premium cigar maker, and it certainly shows.
“Being asked to write the story of Joya de Nicaragua was something of a dream come true,” says Hammond. “Finally, the chance to really get my teeth into some cigar research. To write of a cigar firm which has defied the odds to survive and thrive today. To write of a country which ceaselessly fights for a better life. And to write of the company owners—the Martinez family—whom I hold in the very highest regard. I’m very proud to have been involved in this remarkable project.”
The book opens with the history of Esteli segueing into Nicaragua’s tumultuous past, ultimately leading to the Cigar Boom of the ’90s. What was most striking to me were the amount of hardships, revolutions, and natural disasters this country faced throughout the centuries, yet how easily it keeps picking itself back up and starting fresh. It’s inspiring to say the least.
“Its lifeline, its struggle, its will to forge ahead and renew, renew, renew—is Nicaragua itself.”
The story continues with an in-depth history of Nicaraguan tobacco, which honestly was the only section of the book where I ended up skimming a few paragraphs. Not that the section wasn’t interesting; it’s just possibly a bit too much information, and too long, for the common reader. However, the book then moves into the history of Joya de Nicaragua, and I never again thought about skipping a word.
Hammond writes about the time Joya cigars showed up in Nixon’s White House, the rise and struggles of early Joya, and the Dean Jones story, which I won’t spoil here but is a fantastic story and a highlight of the book.
Easily my favorite section is the story of Joya’s employees like the above-mentioned Briones and Gutierrez. To me, there is nothing that endears me more to a company than feeling close to the people who make the product I love. To know the stories of the people rolling my cigars makes me appreciate the product even more. It does the heart good to know that the workers are all treated so well and that Joya has had such a significant economic and social impact on Nicaragua.
Following this is a section on Joya’s cigar-making processes featuring attractive photos of each and every step. The book then closes with a look into the evolution of Joya and a glimpse toward the future. It’s impossible to come away from reading their story not feeling inspired, with a greater appreciation for cigars, cigar companies, and their contributions to the countries they reside in.
“With Cinco Décadas our goal was to showcase the profound impact that tobacco and cigars have had in our country, in our people, our culture, and in our future,” says Juan Martinez, president of Joya de Nicaragua. “It’s not a book about a person, or a family, or the process of making cigars. It’s [a] book about all those things. This book allows us to appreciate cigars in a more meaningful and complete way.”
With that, I recommend grabbing your favorite Joya stick, kicking back, and then immersing yourself into their wonderful and engaging history.
“As we close the chapter of our first 50 years, we begin to write the story of the next five decades hand-in-hand with the story of our whole nation.” – Juan Martinez
The first edition of Cinco Décadas: The Rise of the Nicaraguan Cigar is in English and will later be translated to Spanish. It’s available at special Joya de Nicaragua events and in certain specialty shops around the world. The book will soon be available online; however, we highly recommend getting your hands on a physical copy.
For more info, visit joyacigars.com.