Arizona already had several franchises, but Snyder and Robinson knew that California, with its one and only Cheba Hut near San Diego State University was ripe for a good sandwich shop with a peculiar theme. In July, they took over SDSU’s location, with plans to open at least three locations in Southern California.
“We knew we wanted to open a sandwich shop, and it wasn’t even a question that Cheba Hut was the right choice,” said Robinson. “We knew the food was good, and that would speak for itself.”
Soon after they purchased it, their first location was doing record business but Snyder and Robinson had had their sights set — even before they bought the SDSU location — on another area: Pacific Beach.
“We always knew we wanted to be in Pacific Beach,” Robinson said. “The owner (Scott Jennings) had always wanted a place there, and we knew it would be the perfect location for Cheba Hut.”
Snyder and Robinson said a fair percentage of their customers come from Pacific Beach. Many are students who commute to SDSU, and many have been very vocal about demanding a location in their community.
“We have so many people that come from PB, and they keep asking us when we’re going to open a location there,” Snyder said.
In May, the pair started the process of securing a second site. They discovered that the owners of Kafé Yen at 4516 Mission Blvd. were ready, after years in the business, to retire. The location was perfect: it was in a high-traffic area, and Cheba Hut, which serves beer, could assume Kafé Yen’s liquor license. They negotiated a price, signed escrow and handed over $10,000. Then, they heard nothing for over a month.
“It was like [the property owners] were just ignoring us,” Robinson said. “We heard nothing. We kept trying to get in touch with them to take the next step, and it was like they disappeared.”
Snyder and Robinson eventually found out, through Cheba Hut’s corporate office, that the property owners had rejected their offer based on the shop’s 420-friendly theme. Covey Commercial, which manages the property for its owners, did not return requests for comment by press time.
“It was really disappointing,” Snyder said. “They said nothing about that before, and then we find out we’re being stopped because of that.”
Cheba Hut was the brainchild of owner Scott Jennings, who opened the first store in Arizona in 1998. As a student at ASU, he had worked as a food delivery driver, and came to realize many of his customers were hungry for a very specific reason.
“I realized times were changing and police have something more important to do,” he said. “I thought this theme would be something that could catch on, particularly around colleges, and I just wanted to create a place that would fun to work at and eat at.”
Cheba Hut, which now has 16 locations in seven states, does not serve anything that contains marijuana. It sells no smoking paraphernalia, nor does it have any affiliations with marijuana dispensaries. The menu does, however, pay homage to that humble plant, with items like the “Kush” (your basic BLT), “Chronic” (barbecue roast beef) and “Humboldt” (guacamole veggie sandwich). All sandwiches come in three sizes: nug (4 inches), pinner (8 inches) and blunt (12 inches). The walls feature popular counter-culture décor, like Bob Marley posters and tie-dyed textiles. All that, Snyder and Robinson said, shouldn’t have any bearing on where they’re allowed to run a store.
“The food is what Cheba Hut is about,” Robinson said. “The sauces, which are our own proprietary recipe, are made fresh daily, and so is the bread. If people just come in here and taste the food, they’ll know what we’re about.”
Jennings is upset about the property owners’ decision to shut out Cheba Hut. Ever since he started the chain, he said, he had hopes for a Pacific Beach location.
“I always idolized the beach, and I would always go to San Diego in the summer,” Jennings said. “I think Pacific Beach has a really cool feel to it, and I have wanted to get a franchise there forever. [Ryan and Jordan] work hard, and they just want to put in a legitimate business. I think it’s a shame on the landlords to blacklist us. It’s not good for the entrepreneurial spirit.”
Jennings said that, although he experienced a little bit of resistance when he opened the chain, he has since not seen anything like what Snyder and Robinson are up against.
“I had a liquor license denied once [in another location], but that was overturned by a judge due to a violation of First Amendment rights. I feel like this is discriminatory.”
Snyder and Robinson have not given up on Pacific Beach as the newest home of Cheba Hut.
“We’re still looking for other locations there,” Snyder said. “We are still really hopeful that we’ll be able to open up something in PB, because we know how much the community would love us once we’re there.”
Jennings said he agreed the community would benefit from a sandwich shop like Cheba Hut, whose products, he said, are unlike anything currently in the community.
“People want us there. We’re just a relaxed place where someone can get a sandwich and a beer. We understand the community’s problems with alcohol, but that’s not us at all,” he said. “We want to keep PB a unique community, and I think we should let the people of PB decide whether or not they want us, not one landlord. We just want to serve good food.”
For more information about Cheba Hut, visit chebahut.com.