Inside Tampa’s only operational cigar factory: JC Newman Cigar Company (El Reloj)

Rachel HannahMarch 2, 2024
looking at the outside of the jc newman cigar company building in tampa florida on a sunny day

Tampa is often referred to as Cigar City, but I didn’t know much about the nickname’s historical significance until finding out about the JC Newman Cigar Company which is the only remaining operational cigar factory in Tampa.

Founded in 1895, this is the oldest family-owned premium cigar maker in America. Recently in 2020, the JC Newman Cigar Company started offering a range of tours to the public. As you can imagine, this was a poor time for a grand reopening so unfortunately their marketing efforts didn’t take off as well as they had hoped which is why it has remained much of a hidden gem.

Since I enjoy local history and my fiance likes cigars I figured this would be an interesting date idea but what specifically caught my attention about the tour was the chance to watch cigar-making done by hand and on antique cigar machines. This is something you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else and it was even cooler than I’d imagined.

I will share my full experience on this tour below but first I took it upon myself to do some more research about the cigar scene in Tampa so I could catch you up to speed with how JC Newman has kept their doors open all of this time.

A Brief History of Cigars in Tampa

directly in front of the building there is a metal sign describing the history of el reloj cigar factory
one of the shelves in the basement of the jc newman cigar factory with a sign that says tampa fine cigar capital of the world

The history of cigars in Tampa dates back to 1886 when the first hand-rolled cigar was produced in Ybor City. Over the next 30 years, cigars would become the main industry in Tampa Bay and it would become recognized as the Cigar Capital of the World.

The Depression of 1929 and the Cuban Trade Embargo in 1962 would ultimately lead to most original factories closing, of course, JC Newman was an outlier. With no access to Cuban tobacco during the embargo, he introduced the African Cameroon wrapper to the United States, and not only did this pivot allow their business to survive but this flavor soon became a bestseller.

My Guided Factory Tour Experience at JC Newman Cigar Company

a group photo of rachel and her fiance with one of the owners of JC Newman, Drew Newman
It was so nice meeting Drew Newman!

I’m very selective when it comes to going on history tours but this one completely blew me away. The factory tour was only an hour and 15 minutes but it felt like I was there for much longer (in a good way). Each room offered so many layers of exciting information and things to look at.

At the end of our tour, we were lucky enough to meet Drew Newman, the first 4th generation member of the business. He was so incredibly nice and personable and let us take some pictures with him!

As a local to the general area, touring the JC Newman Cigar Company has helped me to feel even more connected to the city of Tampa.

Pricing

The pricing for adults is $15 USD and $12 USD for seniors, students, and veterans. I think the price is very fair for how professional, educational, and fun the tour was.

History Room

Our knowledgable guide started us out in the history room to show us the evolution of JC Newman

Part of what makes JC Newman Cigar Company unique is that it has been family-owned and operated since 1895.

This tour begins in the history room which has pictures and memorabilia displays starting from their humble beginnings in Cleveland to their relocation to Ybor in 1953.

Basement Memorabilia

shelves at JC Newman with old cigar packages and memorabilia

From here we took a flight of steps down to the basement where there were a few different rooms we were shown.

The main point of interest on our way to the Cigar Vault was the shelves filled with different cigar memorabilia. From old cigar boxes, photographs, and merchandise it was truly stepping back a few decades in time.

My Finding’s Fact: The Cubans brought chickens with them to Ybor for their eggs, meat, and chicken fighting. When they were done with them the chickens remained so if you ever see random chickens wandering around town this is why!

Cigar Vault

open aired fenced in room in the basement acts as JC Newman's cigar vault
up close of the worlds oldest cigars that were won in an auction by JC Newman

Next up was the Cigar Vault filled with all kinds of historical cigars. The most prized cigars in JC Newman’s collection are the world’s oldest known cigars which were hand-rolled in Cuba in 1857 and found off the coast of Charleston, SC in the sunken S.S. Central America. These were really cool to look and the shapes of these 18 cigars varied a lot in shape and size because no cigar molds were used during this time period.

There was also a box of Diamond Crown cigars with special edition labels for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Super Bowl Championship of 2021. The same batch of cigars that was smoked by the team in the locker room following their victory!

Humidor

selfie rachel and her fiance on factory tour of jc newman
So cool seeing the custom NBA All Star’s cigars!

In the humidor, there are hundreds of finished cigars lining the shelves. This is primarily where they keep special orders and projects.

On my tour, I saw some cigars that had been made for the NBA All-Stars. Once ready to sell they will be placed inside of a humidor case made from reclaimed wood that has been taken from the Staples Center (where the Lakers play basketball).

Who knows what they will be working on during your visit? Book your tour here!

Tobacco Leaf Prep & Storage Rooms

cuesta rey neon sign with dried tobacco leaves
Cuesta-Rey cigars are made in the Dominican Republic specifically for the JC Newman Cigar Company

Walking through the rooms in the basement where the tobacco leaves are kept was a sensory experience. We were able to touch and smell leaves from different regions. We also learned about the steps involved in tobacco processing.

Cigar Machines

production room where the worker run antique cigar machines at jc newman cigar factory
It was amazing watching how fast these ladies work!
up close of the antique cigar machine opporating
You have to watch the machine in person to really understand what is happening

Our group was then led upstairs to the focal point of the tour, the machines! These machines require a highly trained cigar roller to operate them. The founder of the company purchased these machines back in 1931 from AMP and this exact machine has been long since discontinued so JC Newman’s in-house maintenance staff is in charge of their maintenance and upkeep.

The quickest of their workers can make up to 15 cigars per minute on these machines and interestingly enough, most men are typically nowhere near as efficient as women so most of the workers at this stage are females.

My Finding’s Fact: A single antique cigar machine has over 10,000 parts!

packaged cigars at jc newman cigar company

In another room at the end of the hall is the packaging room which is pretty self-explanatory. It was satisfying to see the process be fully completed.

Hand Rolling Room

hand rolling room poster at jc newman factory
professional hand rolling cigars

The last visit on our tour of the facilities was the Hand Rolling Room where all of The American, the Angel Cuesta, and LeRoy Neiman cigars are created.

This intricate process was awesome to see up close! I was mesmerized by how quick these professional hand-rollers are. Each cigar comes out looking perfect!

When you’ve finished your tour you can purchase as many cigars as your heart desires right from the main floor.

Oh, and don’t leave the area without grabbing a Cuban sandwich or a pastry from La Segunda just a couple of blocks away to round out an authentic Cuban experience.

Other Experiences at JC Newman Cigar Company

rachel holding a box of cigars she made in her hand rolling class as JC Newman
rachel learning how to hand roll a cigar at jc newman

The hand-rolling experience was such a unique activity!

I personally recommend starting with the factory tour of JC Newman Cigar Company but there are also a few more tour options to check out depending on your interests.

Hand Rolling Class

In this class, you will learn how to roll your own box of 5 cigars just like the pros! While it may seem a bit intimidating at first, trust me, you’ll get the hang of it soon enough. The coolest part was seeing my custom initial bands wrapped around each cigar when I was all finished.

The Hand Rolling Class costs $75 USD per person and includes a take-home box of 5 premium cigars. It lasts 1 hour and 15 minutes and only takes place on Friday afternoons.

Tobacco Tasting Class

This is the newest experience that will be offered this spring (2024) at JC Newman. While it is targeted towards advanced cigar enthusiasts, casual smokers will also enjoy it too. You’ll uncover the 24 types of premium cigar tobacco that are grown in 9 different countries. One of the top highlights will be getting to try a range of puritos which is a single-leaf variety that has been aged for at least 25 years.

This 75-minute class is one of a kind and only costs $50 USD. You can book tickets here.

Ghost Tour

Keep your eye out for this seasonal tour around Halloween!

Over the years, many of the workers at JC Newman have reported strange instances like random lights turning off or odd noises when no one else was in the room. It’s been concluded that the building is haunted!

My Final Word on JC Newman’s Factory Tour in Tampa

As long as you like cigars, want to learn something new about Tampa’s history, or are looking to switch up date night, this factory tour of JC Newman is well worth booking!

Make sure to check out some of my other Tampa guides below:

Best birthday meals in Tampa

Cool things to do in Tampa

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