Carlos O'Kelly's rolls out its new look

Carlos O'Kelly's, the Wichita-based Mexican food chain, unveiled its new look this week in Hutchinson, with changes coming soon locally.

The new-look restaurant features four colors — red, green, blue and purple — and a more open feel, with sightlines across the entire restaurant.

The new color scheme has been completed at the chain's Towne East location, 7703 E. Douglas, and renovations will begin this spring at 527 S. Ridge Road Circle.

"We want our restaurants to be festive," said Jon Rolph, the company's executive vice president, "a great place to come celebrate an event... and that helped with the brighter colors.

"We get a lot of positive feedback that our restaurants are comfortable to dine in. We wanted to tweak to be not only comfortable but warm and a place you can enjoy.

"And the third leg of the stool is we want to keep it interesting so you can come in and see things you haven't seen before."

In addition, the chain has repackaged its menu, including a group of value meals under $7.

Rebranding takes on added importance in a struggling economy, said Don Sayler, president of the Kansas Restaurant & Hospitality Association.

Competition for the dining dollar is more intense than ever, he said, and restaurants that demonstrate a commitment to value and ambience are well-positioned.

"People appreciate a nice, clean, bright and fresh environment," Sayler said.

"The underlying thing as you make these moves and keep your people coming in is that we're just barely starting back up from the bottom economically. Getting on the front end of the curve like the Rolphs is expensive, but it puts you in a prime position."

The renovations come almost four years after Carlos O'Kelly's officials began weighing options for rebranding.

"This particular look is the result of trying a few things, keeping some things we liked and getting rid of some things we didn't," Jon Rolph said.

"It came together about a year ago when we opened a new store in Sioux City, Iowa. We tweaked it a bit and decided to roll it out in Hutch, which has been a great community for us for the past 15 years."

Company chief executive David Rolph said 10 remodels are planned this year, from complete overhauls to simpler projects with new booths and the new paint scheme.

"We'd like to be on a five- or six-year cycle," he said, "but we've been holding off knowing that we're working our scheme out so we've got a slough of stores that have already reached that point."

One advantage the restaurant has over some competitors, Jon Rolph said, is that the company is in solid financial shape and has the money available for the rebranding.

"When you're truly fighting for every occasion you can get in your restaurant, we're really fortunate to have the opportunity to reinvest in our concept to stay relevant to our guests,'' he said.

"We think that companies who continue to reinvest in themselves during down times come out better on the other side."