For first-time business owners and industry veterans alike, nothing beats a tried-and-true franchise system playbook.
But too much uniformity can lead some franchise units to look and feel a bit cookie-cutter. Even the food served in restaurants lacking individuality can begin tasting stale.
On the other hand, each and every Cheba Hut franchise location is uniquely one-of-a-kind—from its colorful mural to its playlist bumping in the background to specialty sandwiches and drinks that showcase local flavors.
That’s because the cannabis-themed Cheba Hut does everything its own way, and encourages its franchisees to do the same. “We want our franchisees to take personal ownership of their stores,” said Seth Larsen, Cheba Hut’s Chief Relationship Officer. “As we grow in scale, that’s no simple task, but we’ve figured out how to stay authentically true to ourselves.”
One way Cheba Hut encourages franchise owners to customize their joints is through the artwork on their walls. Each Cheba Hut location features a mural that celebrates local culture and is created by a local artist. In St. Augustine, Florida, for example, Cheba Hut’s mural might feature pirates, a big part of the city’s culture. The Longmont, Colorado Cheba Hut mural features Vance Brand, a famous astronaut who hails from the town, along with President Teddy Roosevelt, who visited in 1900 on his Whistle Stop Tour.
“We want each local restaurant to feel like it’s the only Cheba Hut on the market—a place where customers can really feel like ‘That’s my Cheba Hut,’” said Larsen.
And with the special Secret Stash Menu, Cheba Hut even encourages its restaurants to localize its craveable offerings—not exactly something you see every day in franchising. Each store can have two unique sandwiches at any given time, allowing the staff even more personalized ownership of their Cheba Hut.
“I don’t know any other concept that lets you put two random sandwiches on the menu,” laughed Larsen. “It’s good for employees and franchisees alike, and gives them a chance to put their own spin on favorite local flavor combinations.”
In fact, some localized Secret Stash items have become full-fledged standard menu items across the system. The national favorite G-13 (roasted turkey breast, roast beef, chipotle mayo, bacon and provolone) was a Secret Stash item out of Denver, as were several more limited time offerings rolled out across the country.
“It’s so cool for franchisees and staff to see a sandwich they created get rolled out across the system, and that will only get cooler as we continue growing,” said Larsen.
Cheba Hut also partners with only five select national brew partners, so franchisees are able to make several local selections to round out their 12-plus taps.
“We love to endear the local beer drinkers in a community,” said Larsen. “We have a great grassroots brand, and with so many amazing small breweries around the country, it’s really fun to tap into that culture.”
Speaking of good vibes, music plays a key role at Cheba Hut, too. “Our VP of Operations said it best: ‘Everyone in a Cheba Hut deserves to bop their head at least once,’” said Larsen.
To accomplish those head bops, Cheba Hut encourages locations to curate their own playlists through the application Rockbot, technology which also helps control for unexpected expletives—though after 5:00 p.m., things get a bit looser. “I love Wu-Tang. I listen to them all the time. But there’s nothing worse than when a family with little kids is out to lunch and the wrong song comes on,” said Larsen. “We always have a great mix playing—you’ll hear classic ‘90s hip hop followed by the Grateful Dead—and it’s never repetitive.”
Of course, Cheba Hut locations support their local music scenes as well. “We throw a couple of parties a year that feature live music, and some of our locations do music Sundays in the summer,” said Larsen. “Anytime we get an opportunity to support the musical arts, we definitely take it.” The franchise has also sponsored Bus to Show, a Denver nonprofit that provides safe transport to concerts, for the last several years.
The unique local drinking, art and music scenes around the nation naturally go hand-in-hand with the Cheba Hut way of life—plus, it’s just smart business. “Typically, the people who frequent local breweries and distilleries and appreciate local art and music are our target market of 21- to 40-year-olds,” said Larsen. “We want to stand out, and we’re in a pretty unique position to do just that. It’s not like we set out to do it, it just makes a lot of sense to us, and we value that local flavor.”
Cheba Hut believes its franchisees are the greatest resource to sprinkle in those local touches. “We pride ourselves as knowledgeable about a lot of things, but there’s no way we could hatch the local knowledge that someone living there for 20 years can,” said Larsen. “We like to use our buying power and have open lines of communication. Some of our best ideas, from menu items to best practices, are driven by franchisees and employees. So if it’s a great idea, we want to hear about it.”
To put it ‘blunt’ly: Cheba Hut is a breath of fresh air when it comes to franchising. “Our typical franchisee is someone a bit more entrepreneurial than someone who wants to follow the book of a traditional company,” said Larsen. “We want compliant franchisees, but we also want free-thinkers. We can give as much or as little assistance in curating the local touches as a franchisee needs. We all take pride in it. All Cheba Huts feel like Cheba Huts, but they are also all different. And that’s a good thing."