Shot mostly on location in the Toraño Family factories, the film in interspersed with family photos, movies, and archival news footage from the Cuban Revolution. This latter chapter in the family’s history is told in great detail by Carlos Jr., like the following story which took place on New Year’s Eve 1958 when he was 16.
“We went horseback riding. It was midnight. We were coming back from visiting the Plasencia farms, and as soon as we got back to the house, everyone was very excited. It was about two o’clock in the morning when we heard the news that Batista had left. This was very unexpected.”
At that time, Carlos Jr. was on winter break from a boarding school he was attending in Florida. To get back to the States he had to leave from Havana, and to get to there from their home in San Luis they had to pass through at least 10 towns. Many of the roads were closed and what follows is one of the other reasons the 120 mile trip took six days:
“To cross through each town, my father had to stand on the hood of his car and give a political speech for about 5 or 10 minutes,” says Carlos. “When we got to the other side of town, he had to do it again so we could leave the town.” [When we finally got to Havana], you could see the whole city was collapsing very fast.”
In the summer of 1959 Carlos returned to San Luis to visit his family, only to find that his brother in-law was in prison and Carlos Sr. had been in jail for a couple of days.
“On August 28, 1959 I left and never came back,” says Carlos. (It’s interesting how he remembers the exact date he left.) Moreover, in the 50 years since Carlos left the island he remarks, “Not a day goes by without talking about when we will return to Cuba.”
When the revolution began, a lot of Cubans who went to the U.S. didn’t think it would last very long and that they would return home soon. Carlos Sr. remained in Cuba and tried to save the business, but in 1960 all of the farms were seized at gunpoint and nationalized. Shortly after that Carlos Sr. joined the exodus and moved to Connecticut where he found work with his brother-in-law, Ramon Cifuentes, at the Partagas cigars factory.
Eventually Carlos began to look for new places to grow tobacco. This led him to The Dominican Republic to which he brought the first Cuban Piloto Cubano seeds. As Charlie explains, men like his grandfather were so passionate about their work, they would go anywhere they could continue to grow tobacco. This is essentially how the cigar industry found new homes in such countries as The Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
At the heart of the film lies the importance of family. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that Toraño began making cigars exclusively. Charlie, the first of his generation born in the U.S., joined the family business in 1996. A lawyer by trade, Charlie remembers asking his father if there was room for him in the business and Carlos replied, “There’s no room for you, but there is a need for you.” Charlie also points out that although he never knew his grandfather, it was through working with tobacco and cigars that he got to know him, because for Charlie, and the company as a whole, the family story is told through the quality of their cigars.
The film also points out that culmination of all this rich family tradition is found in their flagship blend, the Toraño Exodus 1959 cigars selection, as “every cigar is a result of that 1959 exodus.” Since it’s been 50 years since the family left Cuba, the film also fittingly introduces their Toraño Exodus 1959 50 Years cigars.
“The bond people have with a brand becomes strengthened when they get to hear the stories behind the cigars, ” adds Charlie.
The Journey deftly portrays via this oral and visual history how the Toraño’s were able to stay the course over the past 50 years. Despite the adversity they encountered in Cuba, by keeping the family together and continuing the tradition that Don Santiago began in 1916, the Toraño’s have become one of the most successful and respected cigar manufacturers in the world.
That said, to Carlos Toraño Jr., success is more than working the fields and making a great cigar. The true meaning of success is “to live wherever you want to live, do what you want to do, and to work with your children.”