A local store is taking on the tobacco companies – or at least taking a slice of their business. Save On Lucky Strike Cigarettes, which opened recently at 5201 Washington Ave., offers smokers the use of a sophisticated cigarette-rolling machine. It punches out about 200 cigarettes in eight minutes for about half the price for most major brands.

Emily Chavez, 29, of Racine tried it for the first time last week. She walked out with 202 filter cigarettes, or just more than 10 packs, for $29.90 including tax. The same quantity of manufactured cigarettes could cost twice that.

“It was very easy,” said the unemployed Chavez. With her pack-a-day habit, she said her purchase will last about 10 days.

Shop co-owner Nick Patel and his partner, Ashwin Gopar, opened a store in Kenosha last fall; this is their second.
The heart of the business is the roughly $50,000 RYO Filling Station machine that Patel and Gopar rent, while paying a royalty fee for each use. Patel said he learned about it from a friend in Ohio who has a similar store.

The first time a customer walks in, Patel asks what brand the person smokes now. Based on that, and using bulk tobacco, he rolls a sample cigarette with a small table-top device. “We have five types (of bulk tobacco) which we can blend into anything,” he said.

If the sample is suitable, the customer buys eight ounces of the bulk tobacco and a box of 200 empty cigarette tubes – choosing from “full flavor,” light and menthol filters.

The customer loads tobacco and a cassette of tubes into the machine and starts the process on a touch screen. In eight minutes, the machine punches the tobacco into the tubes. Patel said he guarantees at least 190 cigarettes.
Patel also said his machine-made cigarettes use fresher tobacco and taste better than mass-produced ones. They avoid additives the industry puts in cigarettes – without having to list ingredients.

“I’m offering a higher-quality product at a cheaper price,” Patel said.

He described himself as a “social smoker” who has one or two cigarettes a day. Patel said he’s a bit ambivalent about his business; he said he was a premedical student at Loyola University who wants to eventually go back to school and become a nurse.

“Personally, I am conflicted,” he said. “On one end, I’m giving you cigarettes, and on the other end I’m like, ‘Don’t smoke.’ “