With nimble fingers, Jesus Castanon rolled moist, brown tobacco leaves in a specific pattern.
Used for the filler in a hand-rolled cigar, they made a triangular shape when pushed together from each end. That shape would allow air to move during smoking, keeping the cigar from being too dry.
"A dry cigar is like drinking an empty glass of water," said Castanon, owner of Hain's Cigar & Pipe Shop at 225 S. George St. in York.
Soon the filler is ready to be rolled in tobacco leaves before the smoking end is cut at an angle with a chaveta knife. Then, the rolled cigars are placed in a mold to take their smooth, cylindrical shape.
Castanon rolls about 100 cigars a day, which isn't nearly enough to accommodate his thousands of customers, he said.
He has owned the city shop since 2005, serving worldwide customers who prepay for their boxes of increasingly-popular J. Castanon cigars.
Expanding: To meet the demand, he recently built a cigar factory in the Dominican Republic, where workers are handrolling cigars in Castanon's trained Cuban method.
An event is scheduled to celebrate his international expansion at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20, at Tailgaters Grille & Drafthouse in York Township. For more information, visit www.hainspipeshop.com or call 843-2237.
Castanon will have at the event 150 boxes of cigars purchased by customers who flock to the skills he honed while handrolling products in a Cohiba factory, churning out Cuba's premium cigars.
Many customers say it's the best cigar they've every smoked, said Wayne Burg, a retired businessman and local cigar aficionado.
"I've smoked cigars for 25 years and tried every brand, and I've never seen a loyalty to a brand like there is with his," Burg said. "People almost demand it, saying it's the best they've ever had -- even if they've had Cuban. That's quite an endorsement."
Technique: Having the experience from working in a Cuban cigar factory, Castanon has perfected a handrolling technique he said is as important as the growing process.
Unlike machine-produced cigars, handrolling cigars allows the maker to feel uneven spots and flaws. And most mass-produced cigars are made from tobacco that's a year old.
Castanon, on the other hand, only uses tobacco that's been aged for seven years in South American soil conditions identical to that of Cuban-grown leaves.
"There's an art to making a cigar," Castanon said.
And he likes what it leads to, he said.
"It's a relaxing environment," Castanon said.
Cigar smoking is also an environment that attracts enthusiasts of all socioeconomic levels, races and educational backgrounds, that often generates a sense of community and business associates, he said.
"When cigar smokers get together, good things happen," Castanon said.
-- Candy Woodall can also be reached at email@example.com.