Bethany Clough

Could a pot-themed sandwich shop and a chain craft beer bar come to Fresno? Maybe

Cheba Hut

Forget the doughnut shops and fast-food places. The latest companies eyeing Fresno for expansion are a little different.

One is Cheba Hut Toasted Subs, a marijuana-themed sandwich shop, and the other is The Brass Tap Craft Beer Bar, a company that is expanding nationwide.

Both companies are looking at Fresno for possible locations.

A reality check: Both are in the very early stages and are still looking for franchisees to pony up the money to start and run the businesses. It could take years before anything opens. No locations were mentioned because it’s too early in the process.

For example, some franchises, like fondue restaurant The Melting Pot, announced it’s interested in Fresno, but five years later still haven’t opened a location. And sometimes it takes a long time. Dunkin’ announced it planned to open 17 doughnut shops in and around Fresno in 2015, though just Madera and Hanford have locations today.

So basically, take this news with a grain of salt and a lot of patience.

Cannabis sandwich?

Cheba Hut doesn’t actually have any marijuana in its food. It’s a sandwich shop that promotes its toasted sandwiches and munchies, marks its vegetarian items with a little green pot leaf and has a bird smoking a sandwich-shaped joint on its cups. “Great tasting food. A very specific counterculture” is its tagline.

“It’s not overt, we have people come in every day that don’t put two and two together,” said Seth Larsen, the company’s chief relationship officer.

People are welcome “whether you’re in a suit and tie, or a stoner living in your parents’ basement.”

Most locations have a full bar.

The company is 20 years old and based in Colorado. It has shops in San Diego and is expanding in the Los Angeles area and farther north in California. At this point, it’s looking for franchisees to “own a joint,” as its website says. It seeks franchisees willing to do a three-store deal who can afford the $99,000 franchise fee and construction costs of $500,000 or less.

“We feel that that area of Fresno, California, could definitely support three stores,“ Larsen said. “There’s nothing (imminent) in the works, but it’s an attractive market.”

Craft beer

Craft beer bars around here are traditionally funky little places, locally owned ones like Spokeasy Public House or Goldstein’s Mortuary & Delicatessen (although there is chain restaurant Yard House in River Park with 130 taps).

If The Brass Tap comes to town if will be the first large-scale craft beer bar here. Based in Tampa, the company has 50 locations and is expanding nationwide with plans to open 12 to 14 locations this year. It has locations in Rocklin and Vacaville and one is almost open in Modesto (that one is part of a five-location deal).

The Brass Tap has 60 taps and also sells bourbon and what it calls high-end cocktails. It serves food too, like prime rib nachos and pretzels served with peri peri hummus.

But the business is really all about the beer, said Jamie Cecil, vice president of franchise development. The Brass Tap specializes in local and regional beers.

“The food is there to elevate the experience and make people want to stick around a little longer,” he said.

The company is in the discussion stage with several potential franchisees, Cecil said. The franchise fee is $37,500, with an expected investment of between $792,000 and $1.3 million.

If all goes as planned, a location could open within six to 12 months, he said.

“We have a lot of interest in California,” he said. “Everybody loves craft beer in California.”

Bethany Clough covers restaurants and retail for The Fresno Bee. A reporter for 20 years, she now works to answer readers’ questions about business openings, closings and other business news. She has a degree in journalism from Syracuse University and her last name is pronounced Cluff.


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