Roll back the clock at J.C. Newman, Tampa's last working cigar factory

ByMark Nunez and Brittany Winderman Localish logo
Thursday, July 21, 2022
Roll back the clock at J.C. Newman, Tampa's last working cigar factory
This historic cigar factory is making 65,000 cigars a day on hand-operated machines from 1931.The Newmans seek to cultivate the air of a lost time, one that lingers here like the fragrance of a good cigar.

TAMPA, Florida -- "When they walk in, it's like stepping back in time."

That's Bobby Newman, the third-generation owner of the J.C. Newman Cigar Factory, speaking to the charms of exploring Ybor City's last remaining cigar factory.

Bobby, his brother Eric, and his nephew, Drew, now run the business founded in 1895 by Julius Caeser Newman, Bobby and Eric's grandfather.

Julius Caeser Newman and his family fled the Austro-Hungarian Empire and settled in Cleveland, Ohio. He started rolling cigars in 1892 and began to work in a local factory.

However, when he was 19, he lost his job amid national economic turmoil, which prompted him to start rolling cigars of his own in his family's barn. Cigar orders quickly flowed in, some reaching up to 10,000 at a time, and Julius needed to hire more makers to keep up.

At the time, Ybor City, Tampa, was the epicenter of the cigar-making business in the United States. Vincente Martinez Ybor had brought the cigar industry from Key West to Tampa in 1886. There were 150 factories in the area making Clear Havana cigars, and these factories were producing 500 million cigars a year. So J.C. decided his company needed to be in Tampa.

When he arrived in Tampa, Newman fell in love with and purchased the cigar factory known as El Reloj, Spanish for "The Clock" and named after the clock tower on the property, whose bell rings through the three-story museum on the hour.

Today, the J.C. Newman Cigar Factory aims to make about 65,000 cigars a day, working on hand-operated machines from 1931.

"This is the last working factory in Tampa like this. Actually, it's the last working factory in the United States like this," Bobby explains.

Cigar roller Luis Gonzalez walked Localish through a cigar brand he is working on called "The American." They hand roll about 100 cigars per person a day, and it's the first cigar made entirely of tobacco grown in the United States.

Bobby's nephew, Drew Newman, was the brains behind renovating the factory into a three-story working museum. Beyond guided tours and educational films, J.C. Newman will soon offer cigar-rolling classes for the public.

The museum explores the company's history and the brands and partnerships they've acquired over the years. Their longest-standing partnership is with Arturo Fuente Cigar Co., started with Carlos Fuente Sr. The partnership has been going strong for 37 years, even expanding to the Dominican Republic.

Through the Fuente family's ties to the Dominican Republic, Eric Newman and Carlos Fuente Jr., known as Carlitos, started the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation. As a result, they were able to build schools for kindergarten through 12th-grade in the Dominican Republic. Bobby proudly describes the foundation's purpose as "to educate these young men and young women to break the chains of poverty so they can stay in the Dominican Republic and get good jobs."

The foundation continues to build facilities in the local area, including a kitchen, a nursing tech school, an arts school, and a top-of-the-line baseball field with locker rooms built into the dugouts.

Back in Ybor City, the Newmans seek to cultivate the air of a lost time, one that lingers here like the fragrance of a good cigar.

"When people come visit our factory, we want people to have a feeling like they're walking back in time to appreciate the art of cigars," Bobby said.