When it comes to choosing reasons to recommend Cheba Hut, it’s hard to know where to stop. The toasted sub brand boasts majorly craveable sandwiches and other munchies; an incredible atmosphere complete with patios and local art; a full-service bar at a growing number of locations where patrons can dine and recline at the most chill hangout in town; plus a pun-rich, cannabis-themed culture that keeps the young at heart coming back for more.
It is the intersection of all of these factors that makes Cheba Hut a truly one-of-a-kind dining experience and positions the toasted sub franchise to blaze its way into new markets associated with the Southeastern Conference (SEC). College vibes, meet good times.
Marc Torres is Cheba Hut’s Chief Operating Officer. According to Torres, the brand is looking to develop in SEC college markets because “it’s only natural.”
“Cheba Hut started as a college brand at Arizona State before we moved down to Tucson via the University of Arizona, then Boulder via the University of Colorado-Boulder and then Eugene via the University of Oregon,” Torres said. “That early development in the Pac-12 Conference generated some awesome rivalries between stores—because we were college-oriented, we would do marketing at games, tailgating events, etc. It really creates a cool sense of internal competition and some engaging elements that you don’t necessarily see with other brands.”
Torres said that the spirited culture that often accompanies sports-oriented colleges aligns with the fun and welcoming feel that visitors can expect to find at their local Cheba Hut. Because of this, “Cheba Hut is really targeting conferences for further development,” according to Torres. “The SEC is one, plus the Big 10 in the Midwest and some others down the road.”
In other markets across the southeastern U.S., Cheba Hut has signed three-unit deals with franchisees in St. Augustine, Florida; Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin, Texas; and Atlanta, Georgia. Torres said that the Atlanta owners plan to open their second unit in nearby Athens, Georgia—home to football powerhouse, the University of Georgia. In addition, Cheba Hut just signed a three-unit deal with franchise owners in Little Rock, Arkansas, who have plans to grow next in University of Arkansas' hometown of Fayetteville.
Torres said that several factors related to Cheba Hut’s model and culture make him confident that the brand will do well in the SEC college markets.
“First and foremost, we tend to draw people with a little bit more open-mindedness, which you often find in college students,” Torres said. “Obviously, a cannabis theme isn’t for everybody, but college kids are in the midst of figuring out who they are as individuals and a playful ‘should-I-or-shouldn’t-I’ vibe really touches on that student experience of making your own decisions for the first time.”
Torres also said that the environment in a given sub shop is often just what the young at heart are looking for.
“Our staff is mostly college kids; our managers are all early to mid-20s. So I think there’s a lot of relatability, to not only the concept but also to the people,” explained Torres. “When Scott [Jennings] founded Cheba Hut, he wanted to make it first and foremost a cool place to work. I firmly believe Cheba Hut is the best college job anyone can get—you have that freedom to be yourself, a lot of interaction with customers, friends...it’s great.”
Torres continued, saying that Cheba Hut’s community-focused vibe makes for a hangout spot you never want to leave.
“We have bars now, so after your shift, you can hang out and have a beer with your friends. So it’s really an inclusive environment, and in college markets, that does well,” Torres said.
Most importantly, Torres emphasized, Cheba Hut is a brand committed to becoming part of the authentic college experience in the SEC markets in which it grows.
“Cheba Hut is all about building your story. We want people visiting to come and make cool memories that turn into stories,” Torres said. “We want Cheba Hut to be part of that ‘Rite of Passage’ that’s part of college—that experience of making awesome memories with friends at the local Cheba Hut has the chance to become a big part of going to college in Baton Rouge, or Gainesville, Athens, Fayetteville.”
Torres said that growing up in Colorado, a state with a comparatively smaller football following, he had always been fascinated by the energy surrounding Game Day at schools in major conferences.
“In college, I had a roommate from Athens, Georgia. He said that there’s a location in the city that measures seismic activity and on game days, when the University of Georgia would score a touchdown, it registered as a seismic event,” Torres said. “I’ve always had that in my head because the energy created by that kind of environment—hanging with friends, game day excitement—Cheba Hut really embodies that.”
Torres said that to keep growth blazing ahead, the brand has been offering internships to brand ambassadors—typically local college students who can spread the word about the toasted goodness that is Cheba Hut. Another element of the off-color sub franchise’s SEC development? Fittingly, guerilla marketing: Torres said that, unexpectedly at a game or event in the aforementioned target markets, hungry folks can satisfy their munchies thanks to a pop-up ‘swag’ trailer complete with free samples and gear.
With development plans throughout the SEC already in the works, Cheba Hut’s flame is certainly catching. And to be blunt, there’s no sign of slowing.
Cheba Hut start-up costs range from $336,000 to $678,000 including a franchise fee of $99,000 for a three-unit deal. For more information about the Cheba Hut franchise opportunity, please visit https://franchise.chebahut.com/.