Recreational marijuana isn’t legal in Houston (yet), but the city has a strong cannabis culture and a real affinity for all things weed. Which is why it’s a bit surprising that H-town didn’t show off Cheba Hut’s “toast” sandwiches until this week. Thanks to a local couple, the 24-year-old Colorado-based cannabis-themed restaurant chain is finally adding Houston to its ranks.
Houston’s first Cheba Hut “Toasted” Subs store, located at 2150 Edwards Street in Sawyer Yards, opened on Monday, April 18. Fittingly, some of their biggest kickoff events happen on Wednesday 4/20, the official holiday for pot smokers everywhere. At a private event before the start of this week, we sampled the restaurant’s delicious offerings and learned more about the store and its future plans from local franchise owners Raj and Ashley Gandhi.
First, the basics: Cheba Hut’s menu features more than 30 signature sandwiches served on a variety of freshly baked breads made to order for each store. There are appetizers, also known as “munchies,” and desserts like Rice Krispies treats, plus a full-service bar with signature cocktails and local craft beers on tap. Shops have weekday happy hour specials that end at 7:10 p.m. (you can guess what time they start, that’s right, 4:20 p.m.) and takeout, delivery, and catering are available.
The Gandhis had a friendly chat with us just before the rush of the private event, where the brightly decorated, garish restaurant was packed with eager and curious epicureans. We giddily downed a “Dirty Hippie” – Deep Eddy Vodka, fresh crushed cucumbers and lemonade – as they talked about bringing the concept to Bayou City.
“This is our first try,” said Raj Gandhi, of the couple’s foray into the restaurant business. “We bought the rights to three restaurants here in Houston. Obviously, this is our first. We plan to put the second in either Montrose or Midtown as part of our five-year plan.”
The Gandhis are Kingwood-area residents who spent a lot of time planning this week’s opening. They said they researched different franchise opportunities, notably Orangetheory Fitness and Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, before committing to Cheba Hut in 2019 before the pandemic started. Although they are not participants and make it clear that none of the food at any Cheba Hut restaurant contains cannabis, they found the topic amusing and Houston-related.
“I think people are becoming more open but yet here in Texas, where it’s not legal, it’s still a nervous thing that gets people’s attention,” Ashley Gandhi said. “We just thought it was a fun topic.”
“It’s a good fit with Houston,” he continued. “We’re learning all about rap culture, weed culture, the art scene. We love being here at Sawyer Yards because we have met so many artists. That’s been really cool.”
“That’s part of the reason we chose this particular location, it’s because of the art scene,” Raj chimed in. “Being the fourth largest arts district in the nation, I didn’t know until we did some research in this area, and there are 400 art studios all within walking distance of this place. This type of culture is going to fit very well here.”
As they mentioned themselves, the Houston creatives are also some of their most dedicated weed enthusiasts. Raj said they will follow corporate recipes, but each store has some freedom to seal their identity. The Gandhis have chosen to link the city’s famous hip-hop culture with the Cheba Hut at Sawyer Yards, particularly through playful murals created by area artist Gelson Lemus.
“Being here in the Houston arts district, we felt it was really important to find a really good artist to do our murals,” Raj said. “All the Cheba Huts, go out and find a local artist to do a unique mural that encompasses their area. So we wanted to incorporate the Houston scene and Houston is known for some good rappers so we have kind of a rap wall. And, also, Houston is known for its slab cars, which are ‘slow, loud and thumping,’ so we have a slab mural as well.”
“He’s a very special person, a very special artist,” Ashley said of Lemus. “We encouraged him to put his own special touch on things. All of his artwork has these own special parts of him that he puts into it and that’s what we wanted. We loved having a local person.”
Part of the fun is spotting all the notes of marijuana culture in the restaurant. There are green lights shining under the bar for ambiance, a painting of a Mona Lisa smoking a joint, and most notably, a variety of menu items named after actual strains of weed and other staples of the culture. of cannabis. We asked which submarines we should test and in what sizes. A 4-inch sub is a “nug” and costs $6.49. The 8-inch variety is a “pinner” and is $10.39 and the “blunt,” the store’s foot-long offering, is $13.69. Any sub can be served as a salad for $11.29.
“One of the things that makes our sandwiches really special is the bread. It’s our property, freshly made by a bakery. We’re known for our bread, it’s delicious,” Ashley said, noting that there are white herb, wheat and garlic varieties, the latter being the restaurant’s most popular. “I just think having good toast in a sandwich is important because it’s not going to hurt your mouth when you eat it, it has the perfect texture. So we have that part down pat. And then we make all of our sauces every day at home. We use many different sauces to incorporate different flavor profiles. We’ll make a basic sandwich, but we like to create unique combinations.”
Raj added that the vegetables, cheeses and meats are sliced fresh every day. With all that in mind, we scoured an extensive menu and settled on White Widow, the store’s chicken, bacon and ranch sandwich, topped with mushrooms, provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles. We went with wheat bread. We tried the store’s white bread at 5-0, – “all pork, baby!” yells the menu. The sandwich is packed with smoked ham, genoa salami, prosciutto, pepperoni, and bacon. That may sound ridiculously heavy, but the freshness of the vegetables, along with Cheba Hut’s “milkshake” and house dressing made for a deliciously light bite.
Next, we tried the Power Plant, a vegetable sandwich filled with spring mix, tomato, onion, pickles, cucumber, mushrooms, black olives, and green pepper. We chose the garlic herb bread and it was crisp and tough but not impenetrable. The star of the sandwich, which made it our favorite bite of the night, was the mix of fresh hummus and guacamole in the sandwich.
For cravings, we tried a stoner treat called Loaded Not’Chos, their standard melted cheese with jalapeños, paired with onions and black olives, all on top of nacho cheese Doritos, with a splash of ranch and hot sauce, like something a Gourmet smoker would stock up at 3 am Also perfect with the Saint Arnold and Eureka Heights beers we chose.
The meal was rounded out with dessert, one of the restaurant’s rainbow-colored marshmallow krispies treats, and the “Sticky Icky,” a hearty peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We wash down the sweet stuff with red and blue varieties from the Kool-Aid bar in the back of the restaurant. Before we left, the store sent us home with a hearty 12-inch sandwich. That was the Kali Mist, a spicy club with chipotle jalapeño mayonnaise to enhance the roasted turkey breast, bacon, pepper jack, avocados and fresh greens in the mix. It was a great late night snack.
This was a very small sample of the restaurant’s full menu, which actually includes some off-menu items called “secret stash” items. Ashley said the restaurant’s veteran bartenders are working on signature secret drinks to join drinks like Dirty Hippie or Hash Can, a limit-two elixir best described as a Red Bull-infused Long Island Iced Tea.
While the bar’s secret stashes are still in development, there are two ready-to-order secret stashes sandwiches that reflect the local flavor. There’s the Grape Ape, a meatball and bacon sandwich garnished with jalapeno cream cheese and, in a nod to Houston’s ‘purple’ culture, grape jelly; and Still Tippin’, which combines grilled peanut butter chicken breast, honey sriracha, pineapple, jalapeno and pepper jack, presumably to the delight of Houston rapper Mike Jones, who scored a big hit with a song by himself. Name.
Ashley Gandhi took us through the restaurant’s 4/20 specials. She said they expect a big crowd and will have a DJ playing from 5pm to 9pm.
“People can pick any nug they want for $4.20 and we’ll serve it up in a commemorative frisbee with Cheba Hut,” he said. “And then the first 100 customers get a grinder and the grinder has a QR code on it and they’re confused. Some people will take them to a fun YouTube video and others will have a chance to win all kinds of merchandise and gift cards and one person will win a trip to Colorado.”
All of this may sound like a lot of fun, and the Gandhis hope it’s for Houston’s food, weed, arts, and hip hop lovers. They hope all of you “juana” will stop by Cheba Hut soon.
“Let’s do something fun, let’s start a business,” Raj Gandhi said he told Ashley when they decided to invest in a new company. “We didn’t realize what we were getting into with the restaurant, it’s a lot of work. We probably picked the hardest business to get into, but I think it will be worth it in the end, there are so many rewards in this line of work.”