When Dorian Lenz Jr. was first introduced to the Cheba Hut brand as a teenager, he had no idea he’d be joining the counterculture on the business side in the future. Now part of a father-son team operating six Cheba Hut locations across Arizona, Lenz Jr.’s growth along with the brand has opened the door for continued expansion throughout the state where Cheba Hut was born.
It was 2004 and Lenz Jr., DJ, was living in San Diego when his father consulted him about opening a Cheba Hut franchise. Dorian Lenz Sr., a nurse who dabbled in entrepreneurial endeavors here and there, wanted to discuss the franchise opportunity with his son due to his background in finance.
“My dad fell in love with what [Cheba Hut founder] Scott Jennings was trying to create and how much fun the concept was,” DJ said. “When he came on board, the brand's franchising efforts really took off.”
Lenz Sr. recognized the popularity Cheba Hut was experiencing at its flagship Tempe location and thanks to that customer viability and the advice of his son, Lenz Sr. and his business partner, Josh Willett, signed on to open the brand’s first franchised location in Tucson. Fourteen years later, nothing and everything has changed - Lenz Sr. and Willett recruited DJ away from his job as a stockbroker to join their team in a hybrid finance-marketing role.
“At the beginning, it was just Scott and my father so they formed a strong relationship,” DJ said. “There wasn’t a lot of structure initially. But over the years, we've grown right along with the brand. We have invested in and learned from one another, which has made us both really successful.”
As Cheba Hut has established its corporate presence and built out its support staff, and grown its brand to 25 locations in seven states, the brand’s only Arizona franchisees have expanded their footprint with no plans of slowing down. Lenz Sr., DJ and Willett currently operate stores in the cities of Phoenix, Mesa, Glendale, Ahwatukee, Tempe and Tucson and are exploring development in a number of other cities across the Grand Canyon State.
“The exciting thing about Cheba Hut’s growth is that the brand used to be limited to opening shop in college towns and fighting hard for years to make it successful, and now we are starting to see explosive growth in the markets we’re in,” DJ said.
DJ explained that in Arizona cities like Phoenix, Cheba Hut is a well-known concept. The brand’s presence in the state since the 1990s has made it particularly local. He noted the Ahwatukee location specifically has been interesting to watch develop because it was he and his partners’ first foray into a suburban market with the brand. “Its gone over extremely well, so we're starting to explore what is possible in similar markets,” DJ noted.
As far as what Cheba Hut’s strong brand awareness means for his team’s development efforts across the state, DJ said, “A day doesn't go by where I’m wearing a Cheba Hut shirt and I don’t get called out by people who recognize the brand. Banks, malls, stoplights, you name it. People love Cheba Hut and it’s hard not to be really excited about being a part of it.”