The first weekend of November 2023 saw Espinosa hold its annual fan fest, La Zona Palooza. The event took place at the company’s headquarters in Hialeah Gardens, just outside Miami, Florida, from November 2nd through November 4th.
Over the past few years, a trend has been happening in the cigar industry where some cigar companies have begun to host their own cigar events – and they invite consumers, retail partners, media, and industry friends. Companies that have done this include Drew Estate, Micallef Cigars, RoMa Craft Tobac, and Espinosa Cigars. Espinosa’s La Zona Palooza is perhaps one of the more unique ones. Espinosa was probably the first to open up its company headquarters to its fans. The annual event kicked began in 2016.
Perhaps the other unique thing is how the event is logistically put together. Espinosa Cigars does not charge for a ticket to the event. It has made the event invitation-only. Throughout the year, the company scans social media and looks for those fans who have best promoted the cigar. If they miss you, they also allow fans to remind them they have posted on social media so they can attend the event.
If the concept still confuses you, the best way to think of this event is Espinosa-Con. This author (with the exception of 2022) has attended each La Zona Palooza. This year might have been the most successful. I’m estimating over 150 people participated in this event, and while I haven’t gotten a final count, it wouldn’t surprise me if the event attracted more people.
Before the event, we hosted a La Zona Palooza 2023 Pre-Game Show on Prime Time Special Edition featuring Director of Operations Hector Alfonso and Director of Sales Jack Toraño. They provided more insights into the event as well as some history surrounding the event.
As for the event, it has followed an interesting formula. Days One and Two are held at Espinosa Headquarters. This is the company’s warehouse. What I find notable is they transform the warehouse into an event center. There is also outdoor seating outside the warehouse. These days, there are games, food, spirits, and entertainment.
Two popular staples of La Zona Palooza since 2016 have been the ice cream truck and the barber. As in previous years, the ice cream truck showed up on the evening of day two. The barber was on-site for days 1 and 2. This is so popular that the appointments quickly fill up.
As for entertainment, an annual tradition is Erik’s cover of 4 Non Blondes What’s Up – which most of the crowd never gets tired of.
One game that intrigued me was a version of “cigar bingo.” During this game, Erik Espinosa would name cigars his factory has produced for his company and other companies. Espinosa attendees are known to bring their collections to the event to share with other folks. These collections contain some rarer and hard-to-find cigars. If someone had the cigar in their collection, they were awarded with a cigar. I was blown away by how many people had some of the rarest of Espinosa-made cigars.
This year saw two new additions. First was the Espinosa Hall of Fame, to which some of the most loyal Espinosa fans were inducted. The second was a blending seminar called “The Anatomy of a Bat.” During this seminar hosted by Hector Alfonso, participants got to smoke the individual tobacco components of Espinosa’s famed Murcielago blend, then taste how everything came together – and taste the blend with alternative wrappers.
The past few years have seen Day Three move away from the warehouse. The first part of Day Three featured an afternoon herf hosted by Hector Alfonso at Caribbean Cigars in Miami. The retailer is not only an Espinosa lounge (and has access to many limited Espinosa products) but is also a well-known boutique smoke shop in Miami.
The grand finale was the evening of Day Three, held at the Hialeah Gardens Botanical Garden. This featured cigars, live music, and meats cooked in a police car converted to a smoker.
What I would tell people is La Zona Palooza isn’t an event where you will load up on cigars like a cigar festival. Attendees will receive some cigars from Espinosa to enjoy. In addition, other cigars are available for purchase, as well as swag. Espinosa puts a lot of resources, time, and planning into the actual event – and I know attendees appreciate it. At the same time, I still get the feeling that many people are most excited about interacting with other fans as well as the Espinosa team – and La Zona Palooza weekend will undoubtedly provide that opportunity to do that. In turn, many of the attendees are promoting the activities and happenings on social media for Espinosa cigars, so it gives the company a nice run of social media exposure for the weekend. Add the education, entertainment, food, etc – and you now have a complete package.
I am still quite surprised more companies have not jumped on the bandwagon for doing this type of event. Each year, I talk to the attendees, and each year they cannot wait to come back to La Zona Palooza. Some attendees plan their annual vacations around this trip. On top of it, each year after coming back from the event, I’m asked how a first-timer can attend, so obviously, this is an event that genuinely clicks. If one has not attended this event and you are smoking Espinosa products, you are missing out.
Photo/Video Credits: Cigar Coop