It was already too easy to set up the title for this article – a play on the colloquialism ‘Average Joe.’ I’d known for some time that Joe St. Charles would be an interesting subject to interview, but it wasn’t until I sat down with him that I realized the title would be more than just a playful pun.
As the time this article is written, Joe St. Charles has been with J.C. Newman for 11 years. I asked Kara Guagliardo, one of our Marketing Directors, to join me for the interview. She’s known St. Charles since the day he started at J.C. Newman and I knew that meant I could focus on the photos, while putting him at ease for the questions. Before we began I had to ask Kara for his title.
“Cellophane and Packing Department Supervisor and Mechanic. Or, you can do what I do, and call him Special Projects Manager since he takes care of…everything.”
Not so Average Joe.
Rather than posing him, I just wanted to follow him around and snap some candid images, to get the full effect of everything he touches at El Reloj.
“I hope you like walking around. That’s basically all I do all day! I wear through a pair of shoes every six months.”
He’s not wrong and Kara and I find ourselves taking photos and conducting this interview in every corner of the second floor, all within the span of 20 minutes. Kara asks St. Charles his age. We both laugh, and I promise I won’t mention it in the article, but it’s very clear these steps are keeping him young.
Inside our factory on the second floor – where all our production takes place – sits 16 rolling machines, eight stripping machines, and seven cellophane machines, and St. Charles has serviced them all.
He’s maintenanced the machines, rebuilt most, and even fabricated parts for those that are no longer being manufactured on a large scale.
But he’s no stranger to the work. St. Charles has been tinkering with machinery from teens. He’s an ASC certified heavy-duty truck technician, he’s been an Airman, a mechanic, an entrepreneur with a lawn service, to name a few occupations.
K: Would you say you’re a Joe of all trades?
Kara is cracking herself up but composes herself enough to ask the next question.
K: So was it all just on-the-job training and you just had some natural mechanical skills?
St C.: Yeah. I bought my first car when I was 15 and I tore the engine out of it, rebuilt it, and put it back in.
But St. Charles’ skills are not simply mechanic; he even dabbled in accounting for a period of time.
St. C: They sat me down in this little cube with no window and I was like, ‘This isn’t gonna last long.’ I was out of there in four months…had to get back to being up and active; getting my hands dirty…”
St. Charles’ next stop in his career was Hav-A-Tampa, a very well-known cigar manufacturer in Tampa that closed in 2009. When it shuttered, he was relocated by their parent company to Puerto-Rico to set up machines in their factories there.
As he’s packing cigars on one of our cellophane machines, Kara rightly asks, “Why would you want to leave Puerto Rico?!” I immediately envision Joe in a Guayabera on the beach.
St. C: Oh. I didn’t want to. I was down there for about eight months, and I got to travel all over. I even made a few trips to the Dominican Republic to help them set up some machines. But I essentially trained myself out of a job!”
K: But do you speak Spanish now?
St. C: I understand more than I speak. Some people here think they’re getting around me, but oh trust me, they’re not.
St. Charles chuckles and it’s clear why people on the second floor look to him as a figure head – he has a kind spirit, but commands respect.
He puts a finger up to pause our interview, then pauses the machine at which he’s standing. There’s a jam and Joe needs to clear it before he can continue.
There’s opportunity to make yet another pun here about St. Charles being very hands-on; after-all, he met his wife Alma when he started at J.C. Newman. But the story he tells is too sweet, and too genuine to corrupt.
St. C: I was working on the cigar floor, and they hired her. I saw her walking down the hallway – I was working on a machine and just looked up and I was like “WOAH. Look at that girl.”
St. Charles blushes and his bashful line of vision moves down to the floor.
St. C: I asked her if she wanted to go for a ride on my motorcycle. We went to the beach and had dinner and on the way back boom the engine just blows.
K: Oh sure [Kara inserts a playful arm punch and a wink]. Did you do that on purpose?
St. C: No, no. I mean. I could’ve fixed it I guess.
He’s bluffing, and it’s endearing. It’s clear from other stories that he is still as infatuated with Alma as he was the first time he saw her.
St. C: She’s incredible. Even when we go out [mackeral fishing]. She get’s a charge out of it. We see all these big guys out there barely catch one fish and even when they do, they’re afraid to touch ‘em. Not Alma. She catches them quicker than I can put them in the cooler, and grabs the pliers and pulls out the hook out like a pro.
…so I just make sure she has what she needs. I [use compressed air] to blow off her machine at breaks, and make sure she has water…anything!”
He takes care of Alma the way he takes care of everything on the second floor – it’s consistent and it’s honest.
St. Charles makes his way from the cellophane department to Alma’s rolling machine to show us what he’s just described and, on the way, he explains why he sometimes feels underwhelmed. I almost assume it’s a joke, because of the intricacies of how these machines work.
St. C: Yeah when we first got here the machines were in bad shape. They were snapping levers every day – Pablo and I were doing a lot of welding. And some other ones were nothin’ but frames and all the pieces were in a box. And there are a lot of old machines here that were out of commission so we went down and gutted whatever we could because they don’t make the machines anymore. We worked our hind ends out there for a couple years getting them all going. But now we got ‘em – machines don’t really break because the transmissions operate the centrifuge and flip the flux capacitor over with ease.
Admittedly I don’t have my voice recorder on during the final portion of his statement, but the sentiment is the same; I’m floored by everything I don’t understand.
What is the Matrix?
K: In the last 30 minutes we walked around with you, we saw you lead a staff meeting, fix a cellophane machine, transfer production, clean Alma’s machine, and pack cigar boxes.
St. C: Yeah, that’s about half of what I do in the day.
As lunch is approaching and we’re winding down the interview, I realize we’ve spent all this time asking him questions to curate content for this article. I give him an opportunity to make a statement – to say anything he wants, and he graces me with this absolute treasure of a closing line.
St. C: In life, never be afraid to just go for it. Doesn’t matter if it’s a job or…whatever. Over the course of my life, I’ve owned over 150 cars and trucks and motorcycles. Hot rods, motorcycles, vintage cars. I’ll keep up, re-up them, and sell them. But it’s because I’m not afraid to say yes. I just say, ‘let’s go!’ I can learn anything. Anyone can.
Tens of thousands of people, cigar enthusiasts and the like have passed through our doors…and some…may have never left.
Aimee Cooks is the Human Resources and Tampa Cigar Factory Manager, but her role in cigar making is bigger than her title.
Storms is the graphic designer at J.C. Newman and has been responsible for much of the art on the cigars you enjoy every day. The American, Yagua, and Perla del Mar. Just to name a few.