By Christopher Nyerges
Victor Migenes, owner of La Plata Cigars, is an old-school, hard-working Eagle Rock resident. We met up recently at the Old L.A. Farmers Market to discuss cigars, life and the fading of old-world cultures here in Los Angeles.
Old-timers and cigar aficionados will remember La Plata Cigars — established in 1947 in downtown L.A. by Migenes’ father, Victor, Sr. — where the finest cigars were made by Cuban and Latin American artisans.
I first toured La Plata in 1985. What a place! The walk-in humidor was amazing and Victor gave us the grand tour with pride, just as he did when Huell Howser came knocking to do a segment for his famed PBS program, Videolog.
La Plata also catered to celebrity clients, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and George Hamilton. Desi Arnaz, a friend of Victor, Sr., used the factory and the workers for the “I Love Lucy” segment in which Lucy, while visiting Cuba, disguises herself as an old Cuban to get a job rolling cigars.
As a boy, Migenes would work in his father’s factory after school, sweeping up left-over tobacco clippings. In his teen years, Migenes delivered cigars on his bicycle to downtown executives. Victor, Sr. taught his son how to roll cigars and to balance the books in a business where a lot of cash changed hands.
After his father suffered a heart attack in 1983, Migenes found himself holding the reins to the company. He remembers the day: “As they were rolling him away to the hospital, he managed to pull out the shop keys from his pocket and handed them to me telling me to sell the shop, keep the shop, do what you must. It is your turn now, you’re the boss.”
Migenes traveled to Mexico, Honduras, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic, purchasing tobacco grown from the Cuban seed. He built La Plata into a national boutique brand, selling through distributorships around the country and opening a factory in the Dominican Republic in 1991.
Migenes sold the downtown location in 2007; it is now the 2nd Street Cigar Lounge in a rapidly gentrifying part of downtown L.A. Migenes continues to manufacture and distribute La Plata cigars. He occasionally smokes a cigar, pointing out that cigars and pipe tobacco have none of the chemicals that are so liberally laden into cigarettes. “I’m not saying that cigars are good for you – I’m just saying it’s the lesser of the pleasurable evils,” he explains with a smile.
These days, Migenes is busy getting ready to launch a new cigar blend in early 2021. But he is also taking more time to pursue his musical interests – he has played with Dance Hall Pimps, a New Orleans-influenced rock band with several soundtrack credits to its name. He is also a licensed real estate agent, helping people in Northeast L.A. buy and sell their homes.
Victor, Sr. survived his 1983 heart attack and lived to see the success that Migenes made of La Plata Cigars. Migenes said that taking over the family business had not been his dream, but he remembers how happy it made his father “to see the fruits of his labor.”
“Coming to America and raising his family in a modern world with an old school trade was a proud accomplishment of his long, happy life on this planet,” he said.
Migenes can be reached at email@example.com.
Christopher Nyerges, the director of the School of Self-Reliance and author of books on self-reliance, can be reached at Schoolofself-reliance.com
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