COO of the marijuana-themed sandwich franchise talks about why he never left the brand he started working for in college.
Cheba Hut COO Marc Torres started working for the brand as a Colorado State University student. Initially attending the university to pursue a degree in political science, Torres’ career took a sharp turn when he realized his passion for hospitality ran much deeper than his interest in being an attorney.
He began as a store-level employee at a Cheba Hut location in Fort Collins in 2005 when the now 20-unit chain was still getting off the ground, and by building a solid relationship with founder Scott Jennings, worked his way up through the system to become a field consultant at the corporate headquarters, then director of operations and eventually, COO.
How did you first get involved with the franchising industry?
My hospitality experience before Cheba Hut involved running different restaurants, so a lot of what I’ve learned about the industry has been on the fly. I started with Cheba Hut when I was in college. One of the most powerful things I’ve learned is how much pressure gets put on you as a franchisor when a franchisee invests in your brand. There’s a heavy burden that comes with that level of an investment, especially here at Cheba Hut. We take our franchisees’ investments very seriously and do whatever we can to help them be successful.
What do you love about the industry?
Interacting with our franchisees and their managers. I love watching them learn the industry, about our company, and then finding success with our model. I take a lot of pride in helping our franchisees succeed. For example, our franchisee in Albuquerque started out on a similar path as me as an employee. I’ve watched him progress over the last three years to eventually invest in his own store. Watching our people achieve their dreams is what keeps us going.
What do you wish you could change in franchising?
The hardest thing for us is getting buy-in from franchisees on new things – whether that’s a product launch, new design, etc. I wish there was a way for us to get immediate buy-in. The great thing about Cheba Hut is that we have company stores that we can use as test sites before taking it out to the franchisees. We want them to feel confident knowing that we’re making decisions not just for us, but for them. Having company stores makes it a lot easier because we’re not only making decisions that impact other people, it impacts our success as well.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry since you started out in franchise development?
The increased quality of the competition. There are a lot of good concepts out there making really good food, which makes it even more difficult to differentiate yourself. We’re really proud of our food but what really differentiates us is our culture and our people. Our employees are proud to say they work here, they’re diehards.
What makes a great franchisee?
We look way beyond financial qualifications. Our franchisees have to live and breathe the brand. We’re well aware that Cheba Hut is not for everyone. It’s different, it’s polarizing in certain markets because it’s a marijuana-themed sandwich shop. Our franchisees need to buy into the culture which starts with our owners, franchisees and trickles down to our employees. Once they’re bought in, that message immediately crosses the counter to the customer. We also embrace individuality at our stores. We don’t care if people have tattoos or piercings, and our franchisees need to understand that. We’re not looking for franchisees who hire employees that read a script, we’re looking for people with a genuine personality who can connect with our customers on a higher level than what’s typically expected.
What’s the number one thing that sells franchises?
For us, we call it keeping it simple. It’s all about our product. We have a very simple system that delivers a very high-quality product which is what’s most attractive to our franchisees. All they really need are refrigerators and toasters. We don’t need fryers and grills to get it done. We want the focus at the store level to be on the culture and building relationships. Our franchisees are impressed that we can have such a simple operation deliver such a high-quality product