The oldest city in America just got quirkier.
St. Augustine will officially become the first city in Florida to have its very own Cheba Hut, a restaurant known for its exceptional customer service, delicious menu and laid-back atmosphere. This kicks off the brand’s growing footprint in Florida—and across the Southern United States—as Cheba Hut recently signed a three-unit deal to spread the good vibes in Texas, too.
“It’s fitting that the oldest city in the U.S. gets the first Cheba Hut on the East Coast, making us a national brand,” said founder Scott Jennings. “We are thrilled to be opening up in this very cool city. It’s a match 400 years in the making!”
Cheba Hut franchisee Dusty Derickson, a Terre Haute, Indiana native and 10-year St. Augustine resident, signed a three-unit deal in March with the support of his wife, Monica, and their family. “It’s going to be me, my wife and my son tackling this thing, and my daughter has also expressed interest, so it’s going to be a family-owned and operated business,” said Derickson. “I think that speaks well to the customer experience and a commitment to warm, welcoming customer service.”
Derickson’s decades of restaurant experience began when his parents purchased a Dairy Queen restaurant the summer after his sophomore year at Indiana State. He started as a grill cook before taking the reigns as manager. “I took some business classes at Indiana State, but I learned more working at the Dairy Queen than I did in school,” said Derickson. In 2012, he and Monica purchased the unit from his parents.
While the Dericksons still own that Indiana Dairy Queen, they decided to leave its day-to-day operation in the hands of a capable manager so they could head to St. Augustine to enjoy semi-retirement. “We just loved the area. For a long time, we would visit once or twice a year,” he said. “We ultimately decided to move down here.”
When the Dericksons’ son, now 22 years old, expressed interest in following in his family’s footsteps by breaking into the restaurant industry, they began exploring the market together. “We started researching franchise options, and it took us a long time to find what we wanted, but that was Cheba Hut,” said Derickson.
Derickson first came across Cheba Hut on Facebook. He requested more information and became engaged in ongoing communication with the brand’s franchise development team. Soon, the Dericksons traveled to Colorado to meet with them in person.
“We went out to Discovery Day the first week of March and met with Seth, Mark and Scott. That meeting and experience just confirmed that Cheba Hut was the right fit,” said Derickson. “We came home, signed off on some paperwork and hit the ground running.”
“Dusty and Monica are a perfect fit for the Cheba Hut family. They have years of experience through owning and operating Dairy Queen, and the fact that they are making their St. Augustine Cheba Hut a family business is awesome,” said Seth Larsen, Cheba Hut’s Chief Relationship Officer. “Getting Cheba Hut into the Florida market was a no-brainer. It’s a beautiful state, and our culture is a perfect fit. We’re really excited to see the St. Augustine community embrace it as a local hangout spot.”
Derickson said that Cheba Hut’s culture was perfect for both his family and for the St. Augustine lifestyle. “The brand was everything we were looking for: a fun environment, a laid-back culture, not a huge 200-seat unit model, but rather, a small and intimate place that’s easily managed,” he said. “I thought the culture was really cool, and it aligned nicely with St. Augustine’s beach community. We have a lot of surfers, people on vacation, and so on. So that’s where I thought that, after seeing the concept and culture at Cheba Hut, that it would be a perfect fit for this community.”
Derickson plans to open his first Cheba Hut in September 2019. As for his two other units, he’s looking forward to helping the brand grow its footprint across the sunny state of Florida, possibly near some of the bigger college campuses where young, hungry students frequently congregate.
Today, more and more cities across the country are making Cheba Hut their local favorite. The brand plans to double its number of locations to 50 by end of 2021 and grow to 200 nationwide by 2025.
Cheba Hut start-up costs range from $336,000 to $678,000 including a franchise fee of $40,000. For more information about the Cheba Hut franchise opportunity, please visit https://franchise.chebahut.com/.