It’s the kind of sandwich shop that fictional stoner Jeff Spicoli and real-life pot enthusiasts Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg might love.
Cheba Hut, a Fort Collins-based chain whose marijuana and counterculture theme includes its name, logo and “toasted” sandwiches, is entering the Colorado Springs market with a restaurant on the city’s northwest side.
The chain, a mix of corporate and franchised locations, will operate a restaurant in a retail center being developed northwest of Interstate 25 and Fillmore Street, near the new Best Western Plus Executive Residency Fillmore Inn. Cheba Hut is targeting a June 1 opening.
The marijuana theme is meant to set the chain apart, said founder Scott Jennings, who launched Cheba Hut during his college days in 1998 in Tempe, Ariz. But the restaurant also offers good food — none of which is prepared using marijuana, of course — and hires employees who enjoy engaging with customers, he said.
“Just to be different,” Jennings of the reason for the pot theme. “Back in the day, 21 years ago, people were like, ‘You’re nuts. You can’t do that.’ That made me just want to do it more. To be something a little bit different.”
The marijuana theme is everywhere at Cheba Hut. “Cheeba” is a slang term for pot. A company logo shows smoke billowing out of a leafy-topped hut, and walls of some Cheba Hut locations are decorated with murals of celebrity advocates of pot use.
Cheba Hut’s menu includes toasted (a reference to getting high) sandwiches named after Acapulco Gold, Jamaican Red, Silver Haze and other pot strains. Chips, pretzel nuggets, garlic cheese bread, Rice Krispie bars, chocolate chip cookies and brownies are among the munchies and treats.
Like other locations, Cheba Hut’s Colorado Springs restaurant will have a full-service bar, which helps attract customer groups and makes it a gathering place, said Marc Torres, chief operating officer. The bar concept was added in 2010.
“They come in groups; they come in packs,” Torres said. “They come four people, six people, 10 people at a time because they want a cool place to hang out. It’s not your normal sub shop, by any means. The bar really kind of helps create that destination environment.”
Cheba Hut considered opening near Colorado College in downtown Colorado Springs or farther north near the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Torres said.
The location off I-25 and Fillmore is a middle ground where Cheba Hut hopes to attract college students, young professionals and families.
“We’re about our local community,” he said. “It’s a local neighborhood spot.”
With the Colorado Springs store and other soon-to-open restaurants, Cheba Hut will have 27 locations in Colorado, Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin. The chain favors university towns such as Boulder, Madison, Wis., and Tempe and Tucson, Ariz.
The Springs location will employ 45 full- and part-time people, Jennings and Torres said. Cheba Hut also is eyeing a second site in the InterQuest area on the city’s far north side, said Torres, who grew up in the Springs.
Competition is plentiful in the sandwich industry, and the Springs is home to regional and national chains including Subway, Jimmy John’s, Firehouse, Jersey Mike’s and Which Wich. Local favorites include Wooglin’s, Oliver’s Deli and East Coast Deli.
And even as Colorado voters approved recreational marijuana sales in 2012, Colorado Springs officials have not permitted retail sales in the city.
Still, Torres and Jennings predict Colorado Springs is open to new concepts.
Case in point: Torres said he remembers seeing a long line of cars snaking outside of upstart Dutch Bros. Coffee in Colorado Springs last year, while only a couple of vehicles were going through the nearby drive-through at coffee giant Starbucks.
“As soon as I saw that line at Dutch Bros. this past summer,” Torres said, “that was the light. I was like, ‘People in Colorado Springs are ready for Cheba Hut now.’ ”