Carrie Rengers

Longtime Wichita restaurant chain undergoes substantial updating

Remodeled Carlos O'Kelly's debuts

Jon Rolph, President of Sasnak Management, explains how the west-side Carlos O'Kelly's has been remodeled. (Carrie Rengers/The Wichita Eagle/Jan. 9, 2017)
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Jon Rolph, President of Sasnak Management, explains how the west-side Carlos O'Kelly's has been remodeled. (Carrie Rengers/The Wichita Eagle/Jan. 9, 2017)

UPDATED – In 2014 when Sasnak Management president Jon Rolph made what he called a “gut-wrenching” decision to close 17 Carlos O’Kelly’s restaurants nationally, he explained that it was part of the company’s growth strategy. That meant closing restaurants that were underperforming or were in the wrong locations in order to put money into ones with more potential.

Since then the company has moved or remodeled eight Carlos O’Kelly’s restaurants. It will have a dozen done by the end of this year with eight more to go after that.

“By the end of this year, we’ll have transformed over half of our system,” Rolph says.

That includes remodeling the second Carlos O’Kelly’s in Wichita, which opened on Ridge Road just north of Kellogg in 1990.

“It was just us and the Palace West Theatre out here. So we had the big pink building, which is still pink, and us,” Rolph says. “Obviously this area has grown a lot all around us.”

He says he’s finishing $450,000 in renovations to the space, which includes new brick, flooring, paint, booths, Mexican tile, chandeliers made from tequila bottles and a new slogan, “Tequila Love.”

“Margaritas are a big part of our business,” Rolph says.

He says this is the first time the city has seen the chain’s new look.

Rolph says his father, Sasnak co-founder David Rolph, and even customers were worried about changes.

“When you remodel something, you want it to be fresh and exciting for your guests,” Jon Rolph says. “You don’t want them to feel like they lost the essence of the place that they love.”

He says the response has been great.

“We were trying to really honor the space,” says Ryan Bond, director of brand experience.

“We wanted to leave enough elements that people really felt like it was still familiar,” he says. “What we’ve been guided by is doing Mexican differently and that’s how this concept was created. Part of the process has been how do we do Mexican decor a little bit differently so it’s not typical or cliche.”

Rolph says when this restaurant was built, it was the original prototype for a Carlos O’Kelly’s. Now, its updates will be the model for other Carlos O’Kelly’s restaurants going forward.

“It was the first extensive remodel we’ve done on one of these,” he says.

Between this remodel and the new HomeGrown breakfast concept Sasnak is starting, Rolph says he’s “probably spending more on west side restaurants than anyone has in a while.”

“It’s been a real fun kind of exciting time to be part of our company,” he says.

Rolph says Sasnak’s growth is better than the industry’s as a whole.

“We used to lag what casual dining was doing. Now we lead.”

Rolph says it’s confirmation that the difficult decisions he made in 2014 were the right ones.

“It’s a pretty remarkable story.”

Carrie Rengers: 316-268-6340, @CarrieRengers

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