I Got That Cheba Cheba

I Got That Cheba Cheba

In case you didn’t know, cheeba is slang for pot, and when Tone Loc penned “Cheeba Cheeba” in 1989, pot was still pretty much an underground thing, not as socially acceptable as it is today. Bounce forward nine years to 1998, and our favorite weed was still a bit on the hush, hush.

But the times, they were a-changin’, and the kush, kush was becoming more acceptable to the fine, fine Americans with their red-blooded souls and occasional bloodshot eyes. That’s when, in ’98, an ambitious entrepreneur named Scott Jennings launched his brainchild, Cheba Hut, a counter-cultural sandwich shop near Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ.

Jennings’ idea was to celebrate marijuana and the sub-culture surrounding it. And what better way to celebrate cannabis than to serve those who had toked their way into the munchies? Jennings’ “edibles” were sometimes toasted (like a lot of his clientele), built fresh with homemade bread and crispy vegetables, lathered with spicy, made-from-scratch sauces, and filled with any number of meats that left stoners salivating for more.

Cheba Hut was born, a fast success in a city still somewhat suspicious of the benefits of ganja. Patrons weren’t apprehensive enough, however, to avoid devouring some truly mouth-watering, freshly made sandwiches.

Today, Cheba Hut can be found in a number of states, including Arizona, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Oregon and Wisconsin. Arizona lays claim to six restaurants, located in Mesa, Tempe, downtown Phoenix, Glendale, Flagstaff and Tucson.

Two families hold the reins on the Arizona franchise Huts, the Willetts and the Lenz’s. Dorian Lenz, Jr., is a former stock broker, sometimes comedian, and full-time marketing director for the Arizona Cheba Huts. Lenz says that the first thing people notice about Cheba Huts in the Grand Canyon state is their cannabis-related branding. “We’ve been counter-culture since 1998, before it was cool,” he says.

The branding is impossible to miss. Enter a Cheba Hut and you’re likely to be greeted by images of some of music’s counter-cultural best: Marley, Morrison, Joplin, Hendrix. And the menu language leaves nothing ambiguous about their branding, either: the Dank pizza sub, Silver Haze hummus, the Thai Stick teriyaki chicken, and the Kali Mist California club, to name just a few. Each of their sandwiches can be ordered in three sizes: the nug, the pinner, or the largest option: the blunt.

 

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Unique Theme Gives Sandwich Franchise Boost

Unique Theme Gives Sandwich Franchise Boost

Scott Jennings had two goals when he decided to open a restaurant after graduating from Arizona State University 15 years ago. First, he wanted a place that didn’t feel corporate and would make employees happy.

Second, he wanted something unique. “I’d worked in a lot of places in college, and everything was the same,” Jennings says. “I wanted to shake things up.”

His solution? A marijuana-theme sandwich shop called Cheba Hut. While sandwiches and stoners fit together like … well, sandwiches and stoners, building a franchise empire around the theme seemed like a long shot. But Jennings is killing it. He has opened 16 Cheba Huts in Colorado, Arizona, California, Oregon, New Mexico, Wisconsin and Iowa–mainly in college towns–and chalked up $10 million in sales last year from “toasted” subs named after varieties of pot. “People underestimate us,” he says. “But we are dead serious about what we know–serving up good food in a place with a great experience.”

We sat down with Jennings and sparked up a conversation.

You’ve been around for 15 years; there must be something beyond the gimmick.

We win our customers over one person at a time. I think that’s why we’re still in business–we’re not faking it. People come back for the food. Some drive hours and have us pack sandwiches in dry ice so they can take them home. We’re serious about our food, our sauces and our flavor profiles. That’s our differentiating factor. We’re more about the interaction than the cash transaction. We want to interact with customers and have some fun.

Do you ever regret the theme you chose?

That’s a hard question. It does differentiate us. I didn’t do it as a gimmick; it’s more of a parody of marijuana culture. But as far as growth, it’s a limiting factor. It makes it hard to find good franchisees. But it has helped us focus on why we’re here. We want our customers to have an experience. They can fill their bellies with rice at some other place, but I want them to feel better when they leave our store. Die-hard fans like to bring people in, so we always have to be on top of our game.

 

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