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HomeGrown restaurants also aim to ‘Cultivate Kindness.’

Wichita-based Thrive Restaurant Group looks to HomeGrown as its next growth vehicle

The operators of Applebee’s and Carlos O’Kelly restaurants expand breakfast-lunch concept

Thrive Restaurant Group, a decades-old family-run business operating dozens of restaurants in multiple states, mostly in the Midwest, has long run traditional casual-dining concepts, but now they see potential in their breakfast, lunch and brunch concept, HomeGrown.

Founded about five years ago as HomeGrown Wichita, there are now three such restaurants in their hometown, plus a HomeGrown Brookside in Kansas City, Mo. A fifth location is slated to open in Liberty, Mo., at the end of June. 

“Our family of restaurants was heavy into full service hours,” said CEO Joh Rolph, whose father David and uncle Darrel began their careers with a Pizza Hut franchise in the early 1970s. In 1981 they founded casual-dining Tex-Mex concept Carlos O’Kelly’s, now with 14 locations in Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Virginia, and went on to run dozens of Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar restaurants across multiple states, among other concepts. 

Today, Thrive Restaurant Group has more than 5,000 employees and upwards of 100 restaurants in 12 states.

But HomeGrown is fairly new territory for them, with retail components, limited hours and a strong focus on local sourcing. 

“We liked the schedule and sector of breakfast and the idea of catching people in the first half of their days,” Rolph said. “We also saw market growth inside of breakfast.” 


HomeGrown restaurants aim to offer an affordable, premium customer experience, from pasture-raised eggs in the West Coast Wake Up omelet or scramble, and house-made Lemon “Pop Tarts” filled with lemon curd, to fresh-squeezed orange juice or handcrafted cocktails. Gluten-free options are available, too.

There’s an open kitchen in every HomeGrown restaurant and a full bar reflects a growing trend among restaurants serving breakfast, Rolph said. The in-house gift shop focuses on local suppliers and provides information about their businesses, plus offering HomeGrown swag.

The brand sources local items as much as possible, from breakfast ingredients to décor. “We work with seven or eight local suppliers at every restaurant, giving them greater visibility in the community,” Rolph said. “We really get excited about helping them do business and love the idea of turning money back into the local economy.”  

That means purchasing local bacon and sausages, honey, and espresso. But bacon sourced in the Kansas City area is different from bacon sourced in Wichita. “So, things may taste a little different, but they still taste great,” Rolph said. “It’s part of the adventure of dining at HomeGrown.”

HomeGrown_Restaurants_-_Homemade_pop_tarts_with_mimosa_and_Bloody_Mary._Photo_by_Anna_Petrow.jpgMuch of the building and design for HomeGrown restaurants is locally sourced, too. 

“My wife, Lauren, has been an important part of this story, too,” Rolph said. “She intersects a lot with interior design of our restaurants.

“We select an emerging local artist to do an art piece that speaks to [each location] and they’re all noticeable. In our downtown [Wichita] store there’s art across most of our entire back wall. In Brookside, the artist used wood crate material as ‘canvas,’ and it’s, maybe, four-by-four [feet].”

When choosing the right locale for the first HomeGrown restaurant outside of Wichita, Rolph and his team wanted to be able to drive there in a day. They wanted to create one great restaurant and see what the marketplace indicated from there.

“That first test out of your original market is a big test, especially during COVID, and the marketplace was really hard to read during COVID,” Rolph said. “This new urban location has done really well. From feedback we have been getting, Brookside fits our concept well, especially with the farmers’ market across the street.” 

HomeGrown restaurants also aim to ‘Cultivate Kindness.’

“Anyone who comes to work with us is invited to make a difference,” Rolph said. “We talk a lot about it internally. You’re inviting team members to consider how they can cultivate kindness among fellow employees and customers, doing little things to help pour kindness into somebody else’s life.”

Supporting surrounding communities is another benchmark of Thrive Restaurant Group operations: The company has donated some $5 million to support a wide variety of community projects, from an Iowa prom to funding for children with cancer.

Rolph said it has been a lot of fun for him and Lauren to work together. “We also have six kids, from 2 to 13, and HomeGrown will be a part of their growing up story. In five years, it would be great to have 15-20 [HomeGrown] locations. And, by starting the day right, we hope to spur acts of kindness throughout the day, and the community.”

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