Cheba Hut : Now in San Diego

By George Alberts

When the first Cheba Hut surfaced in Arizona back in 1998, Scott Jennings was probably portrayed as decadent and rebellious.  He was told the idea was risky and would never work.  People thought it was a gimmick because of its concept.  But for Scott, it was about great food and a way of doing business.  Inspired by the beach scene, he wanted a clean but well used local shop.  “We DO NOT cookie cut our store layouts,” he said.  “We believe you cannot cookie cut character and that is why each shop will have the same basic line layout, but eventually take on a character of its own.  Each shop looks and feels a little different.  It’s like a nice pair of jeans that take a while to fit right…..then there is nothing better!!!”  When I questioned his inspiration, he replied, “I couldn’t go to the beach, so I wanted to bring the beach to me.” It’s obvious Jennings has poured his heart and soul into this business; it’s reflected in its atmosphere, food, and great friendly service.

San Diego can finally enjoy this new, fun, and original experience.  Cheba Hut is the very first counterculture themed franchise.  What sets them apart from others is…“It’s not about the money,” Jennings stated.  “It’s very simple, I like people and I like food.  It’s why I got into this business.”  There is no question, he is doing what he loves and loves what he does; it’s an inspiration on so many levels.  The concept has quite a following by appealing directly to college students and the marijuana-inspired counterculture.  The unique aspect of this franchise is its promotion of free speech and expression, which is seen throughout the chain with its menu and marijuana references.  San Diego has been waiting for something like this to give a new outlook on dining; it’s fun, diverse, and refreshing.

It’s not every day you find a restaurant supporting free speech with its business as a whole.  Even its website keeps its customers up-to-date with press releases, news articles, and videos on the franchise and issues concerning the counterculture.  Last year, Cheba Hut had a free speech victory in regards to their liquor license case on September 11, 2009.  Alan J. Liddle of Nations’ Restaurants News reported that Scott Jennings saw a beer-and-wine-license application for his Greeley, CO., restaurant get denied in April.  Challenging that Judge Robert Frick, the licensing authority, denied the application for unlawful reasons, allegedly on the grounds that Frick didn’t like the chain’s counterculture theme.  Jennings appealed the matter and prevailed in a ruling by Judge Daniel Maus of the District Court of Weld County Colorado.  The district court judge concluded that “while the licensing authority may note the First Amendment in its ‘Finding and Decision,’ it apparently has little regard for it.” He further stated, “It appears clear to this Court that the licensing authority denied plaintiff’s liquor license application based in large part on plaintiff’s use of marijuana themed marketing and, in the process, punished plaintiff for exercising its First Amendment rights while at the same time acknowledging that plaintiff had such rights.”

Anything going against social standards will always face some challenges.  It would take a lot more than an opinion and a liquor license mishap to hinder Cheba Hut’s growth; one could speculate that it would only thrive off the negative criticism.

Anxious to check out the new San Diego store, located near San Diego State, I indulged in its dank menu and relaxing atmosphere.  It was inviting with the store’s warm color scheme, San Diego inspired art, and counterculture theme.  I was acknowledged and greeted through the door, which felt great.  I appreciated the original, friendly and creative environment.  After taking it all in, I had the pleasure of meeting Matthew Trethewey and George Spatola, the partners and co-owners headlining Cheba Hut’s breach into San Diego.  Trethewey is also the co-owner of the Cheba Hut Franchise Inc., and handles all the franchise development and provides leadership to their franchise community.  The store in San Diego is owned by High Waves LLC.  This company is a Franchisee of CHF and is owned by Trethewey and Spatola.  Both owners are hands on, working hard in-store.  They’re also working on trying to find a location for the next store in San Diego.  There was some mention about PB being in the cards, but we’ll have to wait and see.

I was impressed with the quality of food and careful prep of their ingredients.  “Our focus is to make great sandwiches, so we make sure we use the freshest ingredients and do all the prepping in-house; no prepackaged food.  We don’t make our bread like those other places; we leave that up to the bread makers because they know what they’re doing and it allows us to focus on our ingredients,” said Trethewey.  From personal experience, other places lack in quality by using microwaves, prepackaged vegetables and dressings, making it difficult to produce a great meal.  He went on to say, “It’s not just a job or a business, it’s a culture.”  I couldn’t agree more.

Jennings is “Damn glad to have finally made it to the promise land (California).” And I feel it was worth the wait.  Cheba Hut has set a new standard with an enticing and creative sandwich selection that attracts a diverse customer base.  At first glance, the menu would worry or shock the unsuspecting, but for the knowledgeable; the simple play on words would suggest remedy for specific strains.  My strains of choice were the “Kali Mist” from their Secret Stash and the “White Widow.”  I dared to get the “Kali Mist” in a Blunt (12”).  Part of their Secret Stash, it is San Diego inspired and can’t be found anywhere else.  It’s a turkey sandwich bulked up with an array of fresh ingredients.  They take thinly sliced turkey with the familiar lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles, then build it up with jalapeños, spicy chipotle mayo, pepper jack cheese, bacon and avocado.  My taste buds were overrun with flavor.  It had kick, but the avocado cooled the spicy combination of the jalapeños, chipotle mayo, and pepper jack cheese leaving the bacon to tie it all together.  After washing it down with some Kool-Aid – yes, they’ve got it on tap – just one of their great Cotton Mouth Cures, I decided to sample the “White Widow” in a Nug (4”).  It was marinated chicken breast smothered in their signature, home-grown ranch dressing, then topped with mushrooms, bacon & provolone cheese.  It was a simple, yet potent combination, with the ranch dressing and mushrooms producing a unique warm flavor.  When things couldn’t get any better, Jennings and Trethewey topped me off with Captain Crunch and Cocoa Crispy Treats – making sure to cover every angle of my appetite.

In the grand scheme of things, Jennings, Trethewey, and Spatola are advocates of free speech, legalization, and the counterculture surrounding it.  With their old school approach and focus on great customer service, they’ve created a sensation – regardless of the controversy.  Cheba Hut represents a timeless decree of kicking your feet up and enjoying life, which is more than suitable for our San Diego lifestyle.  It’s difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius behind Cheba Hut.  Something as simple as its logo sums up the meal and its maker.  Trethewey describes it best, “Cheba Hut is a huge part of my life.  The brand, the stores, our food and our people are a direct reflection of Scott and myself every day.  We take an enormous amount of pride in what we do.  We serve the best sandwich around with great service in an amazing atmosphere.  When you see the customers freaking out on the concept or the food, it just confirms what we’re doing.  That’s what gets us stoked! At Cheba Hut, we’re more about the interaction than the transaction.  Everyone involved shares these values and it shows.  It’s just an amazing company culture!”  As for me, to say they have challenged my preconception of quality food and great customer service would be an understatement. In my opinion, I think I’ve tasted perfection.  I will be returning soon – hungry for more.

For more information about hours, the location, and upcoming events check them out at www.facebook.com/chebahutsandiego.

Steve

Author: Steve

Built Like That!

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