Cheba Hut finds itself in a sticky situation
Got the munchies? Don't worry, Cheba Hut plans to sell plenty of Kind, Kush and Chronic on the Sixteenth Street Mall starting this summer, along with Acapulco Gold, Panama Red and the White Widow. "The White Widow, man," says store owner Matt Clark-Johnson. "Chicken, bacon and ranch. It's our most popular sandwich."
Yes, sandwiches. Did you think we were talking about something else?
Cheba Hut is a Tempe, Arizona-based sandwich chain with a "counter-culture" theme, six locations in Arizona and New Mexico and four currently in Colorado: two in Fort Collins, one in Boulder and one in Greeley. The subs are "toasted," of course, and come in three sizes: four-inch Nugs, eight-inch Pinners and foot-long Blunts.
Still wondering about the theme? Maybe this will help: Cheba Hut celebrates its anniversary with a big party every April 20, or "4/20," as Clark-Johnson says. "That's our biggest day of the year in terms of sales, man. That's Christmas, baby!"
Clark-Johnson and business partner Seth Larsen, who together own the Boulder franchise, are targeting another holiday, July 4th, as the day they'll open in Denver, at 1531 Champa Street, site of the former Rock & Roll Grill. But first they'll need to get past the liquor-license officer, which proved to be a problem in Greeley, where Judge Robert Frick didn't appreciate Cheba Hut's style. In April, Frick denied an application from Cheba Hut founder Scott Jennings for a liquor license in that town, declaring: "This restaurant is founded upon the principles and theme of the illegal drug marijuana and incorporates other illegal controlled-substance-related themes."
Cheba Hut has appealed that ruling. "It's going to be a lengthy little battle on that, but we aren't going anywhere," says chief operating officer Matthew Trethewey, who points out that no one other than Frick protested the liquor license.
Clark-Johnson hopes things will go easier in Denver, especially since he plans to make this outlet the first Cheba Hut with a full bar — not just wine and beer — as well as a munchies menu, live music and late hours. (He also plans a second location near the University of Denver in 2011.) He's already hired a lawyer to navigate the liquor-license application process, which can take a couple of months.
According to Eric Brown, spokesman for Mayor John Hickenlooper, "the menu and marketing campaign does not in itself fit in the criteria for denial." If neighbors of nearby businesses object, however, the hearing officer for the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses would take those objections under consideration before making a decision.
And that decision should be favorable, Clark-Johnson insists, because Cheba Hut isn't just about pot references. "It's juvenile, but it works well," he says. "It gets [customers] in the first time and it keeps them laughing. Once they eat the food, they keep coming back."
Even so, Clark-Johnson is working on a side business: a real cheba hut that will dispense medical marijuana in Eldorado Springs. As Joel Warner reported in his February 5 "Growth Industry," the medical marijuana industry could be Colorado's next gold rush. (To read the story, go to westword.com.)
And Cheba Hut's not the only ganja-themed eatery proposing to smoke up the Denver market. Next month, the Tulsa-based Mary Jane's Pizza is coming to 2013 West 32nd Avenue, where it will be open from 11 p.m. to 4:20 a.m., according to a flier on the door.
Make ours with herbs.
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