Sasnak Management closes 17 Carlos O’Kelly’s restaurants — none in Wichita — in repositioning move

UPDATED — No Wichita Carlos O’Kelly’s are affected, but Wichita-based Sasnak Management has closed 17 of its Mexican restaurants in order to reposition the company.

“It’s been gut wrenching,” says president Jon Rolph.

However, he says, “We have 22 strong locations moving forward.”

Rolph says some of the company’s restaurants across nine states were too big, some weren’t in the right places, and all weren’t performing as well as the ones the company is keeping.

“That’s where these decisions were born out of,” Rolph says. “We just decided to face the pain all at once rather than just drip, drip, drip.”

Rolph says he’s looking a decade out in his planning.

“We said, you know … let’s make the hard decisions and set this company up so we can pour our money into where we’re growing. I know it’s strange to hear that when you’re closing stores it’s part of your growth strategy … but that’s true in this scenario.”

The chain is 33 years old.

“When you’ve been around that long, you just have locations that the towns moved away from,” Rolph says.

The only Kansas Carlos O’Kelly’s restaurants  that were affected were in Lawrence and Hays.

Carlos O’Kelly’s is now in six states. Sasnak also has Applebee’s restaurants. Including those, the company has restaurants in seven states.

All four of Wichita’s Carlos O’Kelly’s restaurants are “going strong,” Rolph says, as are the ones in Salina and Manhattan.

“It’s been a rough last seven years for the casual dining industry, and we’ve weathered the same storm,” Rolph says.

He won’t discuss whether the company is profitable overall.

“I’m not going to comment on our financials,” Rolph says. He adds, “This move ensures our financial health for many years to come.”

Rolph says Sasnak gave severance to every employee who had worked at the restaurants for more than a year, which he says “is very unique.”

“We’re trying to be as considerate as possible through this process, because it disrupts a lot of lives.”

He says he tried to look at “what’s the most good we can do for the most people?”

“Some of these markets we hope to come back to.”

Rolph says he looked at two potential new restaurant sites on Thursday.

“We’re always looking.”

Rolph says Sasnak continues to freshen its menu and remodel restaurants.

“We’re kind of recalculating the priorities,” he says.

“Let’s face the pain now and set ourselves up to be a strong company,” Rolph says.

“We feel like we’re heading in the right direction.”