A lot has happened since Scott Jennings opened his first Cheba Hut, a marijuana-themed sub shop, in 1998.
What was still pretty daring has become more mainstream, culturally speaking, Jennings said. And what started as one shop in Tempe, Ariz., where Jennings attended Arizona State University, is turning into an enterprise whose goal is to double in size to 50 restaurants in a couple of years and reach 200 by 2025.
Three more of the sandwich shops are set to open in Colorado this year — Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood, Johnstown and Colorado Springs — boosting the total to 12 in the state.
Cheba Hut Toasted Subs, now based in Fort Collins, plans to open its 25th restaurant in Las Vegas.
“We have several more in the hopper,” Jennings said.
There are plans to open franchises in Atlanta, Austin, Texas, and Riverside, Calif. The company is working with a consultant to carefully choose the right people, said Seth Larsen, the brand’s chief relationship officer. He deals with the contracts, logistics and does a bit of marketing.
“We’re getting ready to push nationally,” Larsen said. “We want to be smart about our growth.”
Jennings has been “slinging subs now for 21 years” after briefly trying out the corporate world.
“Back in the day, the marijuana theme wasn’t so palatable,” Jennings said.
The theme is carried out through the colorful, psychedelic murals to the sandwich names: Thai Stick, or chicken breast with teriyaki glaze; Panama Red, grilled chicken breast topped with marinara sauce; and Acapulco Gold, grilled chicken breast with barbecue sauce.
The company’s website says Cheba Hut is “a ‘Toasted’ sub concept that has been curing munchies since 1998” and boasts having “the best bread in the business.”
Jennings said early on, police officers used to stop by to make sure everything was above-board.
“It was. They started eating there, and they got great food,” Jennings said.
Cheba Hut’s theme, Jennings said, was a bit of a statement. “It was kind of fun. It was like freedom of speech.”
Twenty-one years later, 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use, or both. And Cheba Hut has developed a kind of cult following, Jennings said.
“I’d like to think that we were part of that movement,” Jennings said of the changing attitudes toward marijuana.
Besides Colorado and Arizona, Cheba Huts are in New Mexico, California, Oregon, Nevada and Wisconsin. Most of the restaurants have full bars
“We’ve been doing the soft casual thing for a while,” Larsen said. “We want people to come in and spend a little more time.”
The company did about $30 million in sales last year, Larsen said. There are about 750 employees across all the restaurants.
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Author: Judith Kohler
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