Cheba Hut claims free-speech victory in liquor license case

GREELEY Colo. The co-founder of the 11-unit marijuana-themed Cheba Hut Toasted Subs sandwich chain said he won a beer-and-wine license and a First Amendment free-speech victory this week in a successful court ruling.

Scott Jennings, president and chief executive of the all-franchised Fort Collins, Colo.-based sandwich chain, who also operates three franchised locations, saw a beer-and-wine-license application for his Greeley restaurant denied in April. Contending that Judge Robert Frick, the licensing authority, denied the application for unlawful reasons -- allegedly on the grounds that Frick didn't like the chain's counterculture theme -- Jennings appealed the matter and prevailed in a ruling this week by Judge Daniel Maus of the District Court of Weld County Colorado.

"Common sense prevailed in Greeley," Jennings said in a statement about the appeals court victory for his restaurant operating company Toasty Mountain LLC. "We're making the laws, not breaking the laws. The First Amendment is still alive and well in America."

Greeley city attorney and city council officials were unavailable at press time for comment about whether they plan to appeal the ruling.

In his ruling overturning the license denial by the Greeley Liquor License Authority and City of Greeley, Maus was critical of the licensing body's denial "in spite of the seemingly overwhelming evidence in favor of the issuance of a liquor license." That evidence included a petition supporting approval of the license signed by 130 individuals or businesses in the neighborhood.

The district court judge concluded that "while the licensing authority may note the First Amendment in its 'Finding and Decision,' it apparently has little regard for it."

He further stated: "It appears clear to this Court that the licensing authority denied plaintiff's liquor license application based in large part on plaintiff's use of marijuana themed marketing and, in the process, punished plaintiff for exercising its First Amendment rights while at the same time acknowledging that plaintiff had such rights."

Contact Alan J. Liddle at [email protected] [3].