In case you didn’t know, cheeba is slang for pot, and when Tone Loc penned “Cheeba Cheeba” in 1989, pot was still pretty much an underground thing, not as socially acceptable as it is today. Bounce forward nine years to 1998, and our favorite weed was still a bit on the hush, hush.
But the times, they were a-changin’, and the kush, kush was becoming more acceptable to the fine, fine Americans with their red-blooded souls and occasional bloodshot eyes. That’s when, in ’98, an ambitious entrepreneur named Scott Jennings launched his brainchild, Cheba Hut, a counter-cultural sandwich shop near Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ.
Jennings’ idea was to celebrate marijuana and the sub-culture surrounding it. And what better way to celebrate cannabis than to serve those who had toked their way into the munchies? Jennings’ “edibles” were sometimes toasted (like a lot of his clientele), built fresh with homemade bread and crispy vegetables, lathered with spicy, made-from-scratch sauces, and filled with any number of meats that left stoners salivating for more.
Cheba Hut was born, a fast success in a city still somewhat suspicious of the benefits of ganja. Patrons weren’t apprehensive enough, however, to avoid devouring some truly mouth-watering, freshly made sandwiches.
Today, Cheba Hut can be found in a number of states, including Arizona, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Oregon and Wisconsin. Arizona lays claim to six restaurants, located in Mesa, Tempe, downtown Phoenix, Glendale, Flagstaff and Tucson.
Two families hold the reins on the Arizona franchise Huts, the Willetts and the Lenz’s. Dorian Lenz, Jr., is a former stock broker, sometimes comedian, and full-time marketing director for the Arizona Cheba Huts. Lenz says that the first thing people notice about Cheba Huts in the Grand Canyon state is their cannabis-related branding. “We’ve been counter-culture since 1998, before it was cool,” he says.
The branding is impossible to miss. Enter a Cheba Hut and you’re likely to be greeted by images of some of music’s counter-cultural best: Marley, Morrison, Joplin, Hendrix. And the menu language leaves nothing ambiguous about their branding, either: the Dank pizza sub, Silver Haze hummus, the Thai Stick teriyaki chicken, and the Kali Mist California club, to name just a few. Each of their sandwiches can be ordered in three sizes: the nug, the pinner, or the largest option: the blunt.
And though Cheba Hut is a franchise, each shop is set up in its own unique way. “We are not a cookie-cutter establishment,” Lenz explains. “The employees in the San Diego shop have a big say in how their shop looks, just like the employees in other shops do.”
Regardless of each shop’s individual spin on cannabis culture, Linz says their number one priority is always the food. “Our people come back because of our great food and customer service. We offer a fun atmosphere. We work hard to use high-quality food. Nothing is pre-processed. Our ingredients are fresh.”
And while no one’s lighting it up in their local Cheba Hut, Lenz says five of the six Arizona Cheba Huts do serve wine and beer, and two of those six have hard liquor licenses. Some of their brews are locally produced, others aren’t, but fan favorites include San Tan, Four Peaks, Nevada, Rogue and Lagunitas. Picture yourself munching on a Jamaican Red spicy chicken, washing it down with a Sun Up beer, all while staring at a poster of Cheech and Chong or some compelling variation of the Kama Sutra.
Clearly, part of the delight in dining at Cheba Hut is the notion that at least some of the patrons are probably baked while they munch. But Lenz adds that Cheba Hut is becoming less provocative as the culture of pot becomes increasingly mainstream. “The demographics of our customers are pretty spread out across the board,” he says. “We have families, policemen, college students, medical professionals coming in to eat. We’re still counter-cultural to an extent, but as time goes on, I think we’re getting less controversial.”
So there you have it. Where’s the controversy in a sandwich named Panama Red or White Widow? As Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong might remind us: No stems, no seeds that you don’t need, Acapulco Gold is a badass weed. And at Cheba Hut, it’s a barbeque chicken sandwich, brilliant as a pinch of OG bud.