Cheba Hut: Free speech, the restaurant


Collegian | Avery Coates

A Cheba Hut employee takes a sandwich out of the toaster at the location on 2550 east Harmony road, Fort Collins, Colorado Feb. 4.

Hayden Hawley, Cannabis Director

Cheba Hut “Toasted” Subs is a cannabis-themed sandwich shop founded in Tempe, Arizona, in 1998. Their unique branding and kitschy college-town authenticity has helped them open 50 stores across 15 states, with 16 in Colorado alone.

In its lifetime, Cheba Hut has grown from a local curiosity to the nation’s foremost weed-themed sub place. The sandwiches, which range in size from “nug” to “blunt,” are named after famous cannabis strains, and the drinks are billed as “cottonmouth cures.” The lack of subtlety is the brand.


“We’re fortunate enough to be able to celebrate cannabis in our restaurants,” said Cody Edgin, vice president of operations at the chain. “It wasn’t cool when we started.”

Though Cheba Hut’s decor is mostly unique to each location — they all come complete with a custom mural — they share one feature: a plaque with a few lines of the First Amendment, sending a clear message: You can’t stop us from doing this.

A poster depicting the First Amendment hangs across from the register.
A poster depicting the First Amendment hangs across from the register Feb. 4 (Collegian | Avery Coates)

“I guess Cheba Hut is kind of an ‘F you’ to the man,” said Seth Larsen, chief relationship officer. “The green wave has kind of taken over here in the last five years, but we have been doing this for 24 years, and the lay of the land was a lot different back then.”

Despite their expansion into several cannabis-prohibition states, the restaurant chain has only had to wage one freedom of speech battle — here in Colorado.

Cheba Hut opened its Greeley, Colorado, location in early 2011. The Greeley municipal judge, who was in charge of doling out liquor licenses, denied their right to serve beer and wine based on the theme. According to a Greeley Tribune article, the judge asked founder Scott Jennings if he was a “frequent or chronic user of marijuana” in trying to judge his moral character. After a months-long appeal process, the license was approved just days before Jennings would have had to file a free-speech lawsuit.

“We get hit up all the time, like, ‘Oh, when are you guys gonna start infusing sandwiches?’ That’s a great idea, but it’s not for us.” -Seth Larsen, Cheba Hut chief relationship officer

“It’s not illegal to talk about marijuana,” said attorney Maria Liu, who represented Jennings in the appeal, to the Greeley Tribune in 2011. “It’s not illegal to publish a menu that references marijuana in its sandwich names. It’s not illegal to order a sandwich that has the name.”

The irony of running a cannabis-themed sandwich shop when so many people are still in prison for nonviolent pot offenses isn’t lost on Cheba Hut. That’s why they matched and donated $1 from every sandwich sold by participating restaurants on Jan. 20 to the Last Prisoner Project, raising a total of $33,000 for cannabis law reform. The event was called Smoke Out Injustice.

Weed themed stickers plaster the glass the separates the customers from the kitchen.
Weed-themed stickers plaster the glass that separates the customers from the kitchen Feb. 4 (Collegian | Avery Coates)

“Currently, there are over 40,000 people still incarcerated, and that just doesn’t sit well with us,” said Melissa Banister, the company’s marketing manager. “Anything we can do to help and pay it forward, we want to do for sure.”

Despite their staunch appreciation of cannabis culture, Cheba Hut wants to be clear: They just make the food and serve the beer. The weed part is up to you.

“We’ve always only been sandwiches only, and we never want to confuse our customer,” Larsen said. “We get hit up all the time, like, ‘Oh, when are you guys gonna start infusing sandwiches?’ That’s a great idea, but it’s not for us.”

Cheba Hut sees its immediate future as one of “mindful growth,” continuing to franchise roughly 10-15 restaurants a year.

“We have a long history of zigging when everyone else is zagging,” Larsen said.

Reach Hayden Hawley at or on Twitter @hateonhawley.