[caption id="attachment_358610" align="alignright" width="463"] Courtesy of Cheba Hut[/caption]
A Fort Collins, Colo.-based marijuana-themed restaurant chain is eyeing up Milwaukee as a gateway for a Midwestern expansion.
Since launching its first restaurant in 1998 in Arizona, Cheba Hut has grown to operate 21 existing franchise locations, with four planned, in Oregon, Nevada, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Wisconsin.
"Curing munchies since its start in 1998," its website says, the fast casual restaurant specializes in made-to-order toasted sub sandwiches, served with house-made sauces. Its menu features over 30 signature subs, along with a variety of salads, and "munchies," including Rice Krispie Bars, brownies, chips, "Loaded Not'chos," and French onion soup.
Cheba Hut took a step into the Wisconsin market in 2013 with a Madison store, located at 453 W. Gilman St., its only location in the state and region. But that could soon change as the company plans to open four to six new locations throughout Madison and Milwaukee next year, with three to four of those restaurants located in Milwaukee.
"Milwaukee deserves Cheba Hut," Marc Torres, chief operating officer said. "The city is full of loyal, hard working people. That's who we are, and we connect well with those kinds of folks."
Most Cheba Hut locations feature a full bar that serves "cotton mouth cures," such as Kool-Aid on tap and a variety of cocktails and local craft beer. Milwaukee's beer culture has also been a selling point for the expansion, Torres said.
By year's end, the company hopes to find a franchisee who would purchase the Madison restaurant, and use it as a foundation to take over and develop both the Madison and Milwaukee territories.
Torres thinks the Wisconsin expansion will be key to opening restaurants throughout the Midwest region. The company is currently seeking franchisees for territories in Chicago, Michigan and Ohio, he said.
"We understand Midwestern appetites," Torres said. "We know the region loves good food and appreciates good food, and that's why we fit in so well."
As Cheba Hut has traditionally been successful within college markets, the company is looking at Milwaukee's downtown area, near Milwaukee School of Engineering, and the East Side, near UW-Milwaukee, for potential sites, Torres said.
"We like to be in range of a university, but also somewhere that we can attract locals as well," he said. "We typically like to be a little off of the main drag in order to make the location accessible with parking and patio seating."