Carrie Rengers

Sasnak Management changes name to capitalize on thriving business and employees

With 30 percent growth in 2018, a new restaurant concept in 2017 and another planned for 2019, you might say Sasnak Management is thriving.

So much so, in fact, that president Jon Rolph has renamed the business Thrive Restaurant Group.

“This is way more than just a name change or another thing to stick up on the wall,” Rolph says. “It’s a really exciting journey.”

The company currently has four brands: Carlos O’Kelly’s, a Mexican concept with 18 restaurants in six states; HomeGrown, a new breakfast-and-lunch concept with one open on the west side, one under construction in the Spaghetti Works District and one under construction at Bradley Fair; Applebee’s franchises, with 41 restaurants in six states; and the Good Egg at Bradley Fair, which will close when the new HomeGrown opens there.

“We’ve been talking about how to articulate who we are for the last two or three years,” Rolph says. “What’s the common denominator?”

With his purchase of eight new Applebee’s restaurants in the Nashville, Tenn., area and eight more in South Dakota last year — which meant 16 new management teams — Rolph says he realized he needed a new, succinct way to say who and what the company is.

First, though, he wanted to honor the Sasnak — Kansas spelled backward — name that his father, David, and uncle, the late Darrel Rolph, chose when they formed the company in 1975.

“There’s a lot of history with Sasnak that we love and appreciate and cherish,” Jon Rolph says. “It was clever, and it was fun.”

However, even David Rolph knew that Sasnak perhaps didn’t capture the essence of the company.

“I’ve heard my dad say it 100 times,” Jon Rolph says. “Sounds like a vending machine company.”

In addition to having the new name explain the company, Rolph says he wanted it to serve as an invitation to employees.

He currently has about 4,000 and plans to keep adding to his current brands and creating new ones, too.

“We’ve got other things that we’re cooking on and dreaming about.”

Sasnak has had a couple different mission statements over time, but Rolph wanted the company’s name “to tell our story more succinctly.”

“The idea for this is that it’s aspirational. . . . It really is a name, a challenge, an invitation that can stand the good times and the bad times.”

Like Sasnak meant something in the company’s culture during its time, Rolph says Thrive immediately resonated with employees.

“This just rang true to them,” he says. “Inside most flourishing and thriving businesses are flourishing and thriving people.”

As Thrive continues to grow, Rolph will use Wichita as his testing grounds.

“Anything we incubate we incubate here first and then take out into the world.”

He’s working on a new brand that he hopes to debut this year.

“It’s not like anything we’ve done,” Rolph says. “If we can’t find the right space, we’ll do a food truck.”

He says he has an entrepreneurial team with endless ideas to help the company thrive instead of hold tight where it is.

“The great thing about this is you never arrive.”

Carrie Rengers has been a reporter for almost three decades, including 16 years at The Wichita Eagle. Her Have You Heard? column of business scoops runs five days a week in The Eagle. If you have a tip, please e-mail or tweet her or call 316-268-6340.