Florida Keys Weekly

September 24th, 2011
Roll Your Own

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Store Manager Alan Schwedock (left) and his tobacco clerks can custom create a blend to suit any taste. The Tobacco Co. also offers plenty of accessories like cases, lighters, and will soon become the New Town’s cigar emporium.

safe, legal and cheap

A new industry is catching fire in the Monroe County. Besides fishing and tourism, a new business was just introduced in the Florida Keys that caters to pleasure seekers and naturalists.

This new “tropical industrial revolution” can be traced to a group of South Florida entrepreneurs who recently installed two cigarette-rolling machines in the Key Plaza.

“A friend told me about it,” said Robert Lansburgh, a Miami realtor who is now looking to expand the cigarette rolling operation into the northeast.

When the Key West Tobacco Co. opened just over a month ago, cigarette and pipe smokers rejoiced over the discount prices and chemical-free tobacco.

“I am not encouraging people to smoke,” said the Key West Tobacco Company’s General Manager Alan Schwedock. “I’m just a capitalist. I sell cigarettes.”

His main priority is customer service, and even though its been just a couple short weeks since the grand opening, he has already become an expert on his product (he doesn’t smoke) and clientele.

“You treat them the way they want to be treated,” he said. “They will test it out and offer feedback about what they like or don’t like.”

One of his first customers, Stan Cagle, was in the store three times in nine days.

“I think it is a damn good deal and there is no chemicals,” he said. Cagle was paying $70 for a carton of Carlton 120s. He also smokes Marlboro Ultra Lights which he unselfishly shares with his buddies at the bar, but the skyrocketing cost of pre-manufactured cigarettes has made his vice fiscally impossible.

A carton of Marlboro Ultra Lights retails anywhere from $55.77 (Walgreens) to nearly $70 at a gas station.

The Tobacco Co.’s cartons retail $27.95 for a blend that replicates the flavor and strength of a smoker’s favorite brand. A carton with menthol tubes is just a $1 more.

Using a tobacco “cheat sheet” matrix, the staff at the Tobacco Co. can create a customized special blend to satisfy either end of the flavor spectrum – from Ultra Light to Full Flavor.

“They load the tobacco, load the tubes, press start and 8 minutes later they have 200 freshly rolled cigarettes,” Lansburgh said.

Trial cigarettes are made at the counter and once the desired blend has been achieved, 8 ounces of tobacco is then poured into the “Ryo Filling Station.” A cartridge of empty tubes (light, regular, or menthol) is loaded into the machine and the pneumatic pumping of mechanized industry spits out 200 cigarettes in about 8 minutes.

As a kid in North Carolina, Stan Cagle toiled in the tobacco fields, hanging racks of leaves in the barn to dry. The fresh water Conch now manufactures his own at the Key West Tobacco Co. “They taste about the same, but they don’t go out,” Cagle said. “The chemicals on the regulars go out and it’s a b@#$% when you are having a drink and they go out.”

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Jason is the editor and publisher of the Weekly Newspapers. He holds an B.A. in English from the University of Toledo and has been writing professionally since 2004. Currently, Jason serves as the Chairman of the Pigeon Key Foundation, President of the Marathon Jaycees, and sits on the board of Leadership Monroe County. Become Jason's friend on Facebook

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