Let’s make one thing clear: Chēba Hut does not get you high. Their menu items don’t include any variant of cannabis, delta-8, or even hemp — none of the ingredients you’d traditionally associate with marijuana-themed foods.
However, the store itself — with house-made, savory subs, chill music and an open bar, — does have the potential to light you up.
The new Chēba Hut in Milwaukee (2907 N. Oakland Ave.) marks both the second location to open in the state (with a sister location in Madison) and the 47th franchise to open nationwide, transforming what began as a one-off project by Arizonan foodie and stoner culture enthusiast Scott Jennings in 1998 into a nationally recognizable brand.
Chēba Hut specializes in creative toasted subs (most, like Kali Mist and White Widow, named after various cannabis strains), “munchies” like garlic cheese bread and loaded nachos, and a bar menu ranging from beermosas to spiked Kool-Aid.
The franchise has done particularly well in college towns like Madison, with late hours and delivery services adding to the appeal.
So if the food doesn’t get you high (which, again, it does not), what’s so appealing about Chēba Hut?
There are many answers, but for one, we can look to co-founder of Milwaukee’s location, Heather Gawlitta. Prior to opening Chēba Hut, Gawlitta spent 26 years teaching English and social studies in middle school, spending almost a decade at Forest Park Middle School in Franklin.
Last year, as Gawlitta was reflecting on how to incorporate more autonomy and personal time into her career, she and her fiancé, RC Huhn (who is CFO of Viking Masek Packaging Technologies) were contacted by Chēba Hut with an opportunity to open a Chēba Hut location in Milwaukee.
And while leaving over two decades of teaching wasn’t something that immediately struck Gawlitta, she and Huhn found themselves inspired by the company’s values of being a diverse and accepting place, and inspiring communal growth through personal empowerment.
“I just really liked their core values,” Gawlitta said. “They talk about how it’s all about you and what you do, the idea of paying it forward and keeping it real, and just being your own individual.”
And in just their opening week, Gawlitta said she’s already seen those core values play out in both her customers and her staff.
“If you walk into the shop today, you’re going to see people from all walks of life,” Gawlitta said. “And in our staff, we’re fortunate to have age ranges that go from 55 to 18, and I’ve just had so many employees that have said, ‘This is so much fun, and I just enjoy coming to work here.’”
With their location on 2907 N Oakland Avenue, Gawlitta said Chēba Hut hopes to become a destination for UWM students, but thinks all audiences would find a welcoming and relaxing space in the shop.
“I don’t think we’ve quite tapped into the professionals yet, but I do believe they’d feel just as comfortable in that setting as someone that just lived down the street,” Gawlitta said. “It’s all about being a family, and we’ve definitely felt that.”