Photos Courtesy: Karl & Kadee Malone

Countless hours of exertion, pushing your body and mind to levels previously thought impossible, your focus on one goal, your motivation fueled by one burning passion, is a common practice among elite athletes. Bit this hard work and ambition cannot stay contained within the confines of the field, the court or the weight room. It’s a way of life, a force as strong as ever within NBA legend Karl Malone, and a mindset he’s passed down to his children. Now, 16 years after retiring from basketball, Malone is business partner with his daughter Kadee, and dare we say the duo is bringing as much passion to the rum business as that Malone and Stockton brought to the Utah Jazz in the late 90’s. 

“The fact of the matter is that when we open up a business, it’s not just for sh**s and giggles. It’s real,” Karl said. “People pick up on your passion, and [E. Leon Jimenez Rum] is now something that’s a part of us. If you’re going to share a piece of yourself with the world, then you better make sure you’re putting everything you have into it.”

Speaking through his thick Louisiana accent, Karl emphasizes ‘us’ and ‘we,’ noting that he and Kadee may have joined forces because they’re family, but business is growing because of her own hard work, dedication and savvy. 

“She just jumped right into it. You can’t teach that…it’s something you gotta have within you,” Karl said. “I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t make any decisions unless I run them by Kadee.”

The two first got into business together when they opened Legends Cigar and Vape, a humble smoke shop in Ruston, Louisiana where the family resides. Karl’s passion for cigars began during his NBA career when he smoked one to celebrate a big win, and he sought to turn it into a business after retirement. Building the shop took the greater part of three years, providing lessons for the father-daughter team to learn from, that eventually set them up for their success with E. Leon Jimenes.

“Kadee initially owned the construction [of Legends Cigar and Vape], but we soon realized that it held challenges outside her control,” Karl said. “I found myself raising my voice to my daughter, but realized that the things we were fighting over weren’t her fault. I had to check myself and say ‘Kadee, you were right.’”

When Legends opened, the two had more than a smoke shop between them. They had a newfound professional relationship and compatibility. And for Karl, this meant instilling Kadee with new responsibility.

“I called her one morning and had her come to the store,” Karl said. Kadee showed up, originally thinking there was something wrong, but was greeted by a smile from her father, and news that would change her life. 

“I just said ‘Congratulations, you’re the owner,’ Karl said.

Kadee took the news with delight, viewing ownership of the store with incredible potential to expand the family’s brand. 

“The facial expressions that people make when they try any of our stuff is priceless,” Kadee said. “Their jaws drop, their eyes sparkle. It’s amazing. We wanted to make [Legends] feel like our house, like what we have as a family. Everything is about family. We try all the products out ourselves.”

And the ultimate test they both agree on showcases their dedication to quality. “All of our products stand on their own. If you take our name off the label, they’re still gonna love whatever they’re having,” the two of them said.

The search for quality led Karl and Kadee to E. Leon Jimenes rum, during a series of visits to their cigar supplier, La Aurora in the Dominican Republic. After a few conversations, the pair seemingly fell into the rum business by accident. 

“I never drink dark liquor, ever. Then we were down in the Dominican Republic, where we called ‘The Godfather’ [La Aurora President Guillermo León],” Malone said. “They had a rum that got a 97 at the Chicago Wine Institute. They knew they had something special, but it was just sitting on the shelf.”

After trying it for the first time, the Malones decided to take some back home to the US to share with their friends. The rum was met with overwhelming approval, and they kept asking for more. That went on for two years.

“We have a tendency to give things away, then it got serious,” Kadee said. “I said ‘Dad, you gotta stop giving away the rum.’”

They saw a business opportunity to take E. Leon Jimenes rum to the US commercially. They just didn’t expect La Aurora to agree as quickly as they did.

“I said ‘Dang, we’re your best customer,’ so I asked La Aurora if I could be a distributor,” Malone said. “They said yes, and I said ‘Dang, what have I got myself into!’”

The pair are now responsible for the brand’s distribution across the US, and are proud to add E. Leon Jimenes rum to their portfolio of premium products tied to their name.

“It’s a high-end rum and it’s pricey, but the fact of the matter is that anyone can drink it, and that’s what we’re all about,” Karl said. “It’s one of those rums you can have in a casual setting or in a suit and tie. When people have it, they’re going to know that it’s a true experience. Everyone who tries it comes back for more.”

E. Leon Jimenes rum is a blend of selected rum reserves, aged eight years in virgin American Oak barrels. It’s then taken out and aged an additional two years in French Sherry casks. It promotes flavor notes of honey, red fruits, vanilla and cocoa, and is bottled in the Dominican Republic’s prestigious Barcelo distillery. A 750ml bottle typically retails for ~$100.

“[Aurora] made this rum so it could pair with every La Aurora cigar, and they have thousands of strands,” Karl said. 

“And it’s made with sugarcane juice and not the syrup. That’s why you don’t have the headache the next day,” Kadee said.

E. Leon Jimenes is expanding rapidly, entering the Las Vegas market with Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits and is on track for continued expansion, but the road has been far from easy, requiring Karl and Kadee to lean heavily on the passion that brought them into the business in the first place.

“People said no and shut the door in our faces. We didn’t get detoured. You can’t look at the money part of it. You have to look at your passion, and for all the people who tell you can’t do something, show them all the ways you can,” Karl said. “Whatever your dream is, whatever your goal, whatever your passion, don’t let them take that away from you. People pick up your passion … we closed two restaurant deals in Las Vegas just because they saw how much we loved and believed in this rum.”

“When people tell you no, don’t stop. Someone is going to say yes,” Kadee added. “My dad taught us from a young age that we have to work for anything we want. With Legends, I was the one who painted the store. I did so many things for it, and that’s how I earned the business. I worked for it.”

At the same time, they’re staying true to their ideals for family. They began distributing E. Leon Jimenes in their home state of Louisiana, through a handshake deal with a local wholesaler and importer. To this day, they haven’t signed a contract.

“That’s the great thing about trust and loyalty. We’re helping them because they’re helping us,” Malone said. “That’s the great thing about our community [in Northern Louisiana], where we all feel like family and looking out for each other.”

The same principles apply to Legends and the myriads of other businesses each Malone oversees. From Kadee’s CBD line to Karl’s ventures in logging, real estate and transportation, the end goal is to support the community.

“We open up the type of business that people need, not something to compete with a place that’s already open,” Karl said.

He’s also cognizant of his celebrity status, and is the first to acknowledge that while he retired from basketball in 2004, the athlete’s mindset and the passion he’s instilled in himself and his family are a lifelong commitment. 

“The first thing everyone says to us is ‘We know you’re here now, but are you going to be here when we actually start the business?’” Malone said. “They talk to us about all the celebrities who come and go, and ask us, ‘What’s gonna be different?’ All I can give them is our word, and everyone who takes it sees exactly how much we stand by what we believe in.” 

And just like that, you realize the man’s endless NBA accolades are not his identity, but rather a product of his identity, built on a foundation of passion. The spotlight shines on Kadee, who may not have inherited her father’s thick southern accent, but got every bit of the athlete’s mindset that’s paved her own foundationfor success.

Karl and Kadee Malone are taking E. Leon Jimenes rum to new heights, but this entrepreneurial journey isn’t just about business. It’s about family.