NEWARK, NJ — Monday would have been the 58th birthday of Peter Jimenez Pozo, the well-loved cigar maestro who stood at the helm of the family-owned Jimenez Tobacco until his death this April.
Lingering amongst blue hydrangeas and fountains in the back of the cigar and cocktail lounge, friends, family and Newark notables puffed on cigars and sipped wine to live music, a scene reminiscent of Machado’s Cuba. Ricardo Pozo, Peter’s brother, called the group over across the parking lot to rows of white folding chairs and a podium stamped with the City of Newark’s insignia.
One by one, city council members took to the stage to share their memories of Pozo next to a street sign denoting Liberty Street and Lafayette — and as of June 29, Peter Jimenez Pozo Way, right at the very top.
His voice wavering, West Ward Councilman Joseph McCallum Jr. recalled Pozo’s gift for counseling his patrons, who he treated more like family.
“It really affected me when I found out that Peter passed, because I really, really loved Pete,” he said. “There were many days when I left City Hall and I came down here stressed out, and Pete would notice. He made everybody feel like they were special, not because we were elected officials, but because he cared about us and we cared about him.”
Street dedications in Newark are typically given to much older people, according to Councilman Carlos Gonzalez, who sponsored the one delivered on Monday. By the time many people reach their natural lifespans, they’ve had the opportunity to impact their communities and inspire their peers, two objectives Pozo far exceeded.
“He was an icon in our city, he will never be forgotten, the guy was probably the greatest gentleman in Newark,” McCallum added. “When we name this street, that will stamp it in gold that Pete will always be a part of Newark.”
The Pozo family wiped tears from their eyes in the front row as they listened to the ways their loved one made a lasting impression on some of the most important people in their city. Jimenez Tobacco has long been recognized as a place with the power to dissolve barriers along race, class and political lines in a city at times famous for its divisions.
Those who frequent the business recognize Pozo as the great unifier who made that dissolution possible. Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose, a longtime friend of Jimenez, laughs remembering how Jimenez would play Christmas music for him in July.
“There were a lot of times you might have been here with adversarial people, and you left shaking hands. Pete was the type of person who brought people together,” Ambrose said. “I like Christmas, he would always call me and say ‘Come on, I’ll play Christmas music!”
Even Mayor Ras Baraka turned up to pay his respects, dressed in a suit, just as Pozo, known for his impeccable style, would likely have been. Jimenez, he said, is a staple crop in Newark.
Last week, Pozo paid one last unexpected visit to North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos, Jr. Ramos updated his phone for the first time in months, and when it was finished installing, a message appeared in his voicemail. It was dated March, and it was from Pozo.
“He was calling about my dad, because he knew that he was in one of the nursing homes. That to me symbolizes the importance of this great person, this great Newarker, who we’re all privileged to have known,” Ramos said.
Ricardo Pozo struggled through his grief as he spoke of how his brother could command a room, seeming to glide across the floor not in self-importance, but effervescence.
“My brother brought everyone here together,” he said.
And with a dedication made, everyone made their way back to the patio to eat, drink and be merry, just as their friend and loved one would have demanded.