SOUTH LOOP — Less than a year after Smoque Vapours opened its flagship e-cigarette shop in Lakeview, owner Jared Yucht says high demand drove him to launch a second South Loop location this month, with a third site planned for the northern suburbs in 2014.
Business is "skyrocketing upward at this point," said Yucht, whose second Smoque Vapours shop and tasting lounge at 537 S. Dearborn St. had a soft opening earlier this month.
Yucht said the decision to open an outpost of his custom "e-liquid" enterprise near Columbia College, Roosevelt University and other colleges concentrated near Printer's Row came directly from the source — his staff, all of whom he hired from his early pool of repeat customers.
"A lot of my workers go to Columbia, and they would always tell me that between classes before and after, you wouldn't believe how many young people are smoking cigarettes," Yucht said. "I thought it would be a good opportunity for them to be around people that they know, to maybe switch to an alternative."
Smoque Vapours' products differ from the e-cigarettes sold in Chicago's convenience stores in recent years. The main difference is that their portable vaporizers allow users to pour in custom-flavored "e-liquids" — food safe flavors suspended in a chemical similar to the one used in asthma inhalers. Nicotine can be added, but isn't a necessary ingredient.
An in-house chemist at the Lakeview location blends custom flavor combinations, using local ingredients when possible, Yucht said. Many of his flavor combinations, like coconut lime, strawberry-lemonade and cafe latte were suggestions from customers. A bottle costs $16.99, while a starter kit with the liquid and a portable vaporizer costs between $50 and $80, Jared said.
Since the machines vaporize liquid, they don't produce smoke, and all of Smoque's custom liquid flavors can be produced without nicotine. Most are permitted in restaurants, businesses and other venues where cigarette smoke is prohibited: Yucht says he often uses his at Ravinia, a no-smoking outdoor music venue near his Highland Park home.
Yucht says he takes pride in the fact that his product is less damaging than combustible cigarettes. Most of his customers are former smokers, who made the switch seeking a healthier alternative, like he did.
"Smoking is so gross," he said. "It smells, it's disgusting, it makes you ill, it kills. The appeal to this is that when you like to smoke, you like the oral fixation, the social aspect of it, the idea that it's relaxing. The electronic cigarette does all of those things without ruining your lungs or making you stink."
It's also poised to get more expensive: Mayor Rahm Emanuel insisted at a news conference Tuesday that his 75-cent cigarette tax hike isn't going anywhere.
At the South Loop shop, where Yucht expects his audience to skew younger, he thinks spreading that message is especially important.
"Every day I get to go home and say I helped some people quit smoking cigarettes. I've probably gotten a thousand people to never touch a cigarette again," he said. "It's a chance to get these people to not make the same mistakes we made early in life."
Smoque is not connected with Smoque BBQ in Irving Park.