Dedication + Drive = Recipe for Success for Kasey Hanlon
Talk to anyone in the restaurant industry, and they’ll tell you that there’s nothing easy about it. For Kasey Hanlon, that’s part of the draw.
“I like going, going, going. I’d rather work 17 hours on my feet, on the go the whole time, than work eight hours at a desk each day,” she says.
Hanlon is the franchise owner of Salata, a next-generation salad bar that offers completely customizable salads and wraps. With 50 different toppings and 10 housemade dressings, everything is chopped, prepped and prepared in-house, giving the food a freshness that resonates with today’s health-conscious, time-crunched consumers looking for a quick, healthy dining option.
In addition to being the owner, Hanlon is also a dedicated customer: “I eat Salata every single day. I get sad when I don’t get to eat it.
“I fell in love with Salata as a customer and made my father try it. Once he saw the presentation of the line, the quality of the product, the freshness, the cleanliness, he agreed. Salata is all about quality and presentation, and that’s what drew us to it. Salata was founded on quality, service and a clean environment, and we wanted to bring that to San Antonio.”
She’s definitely spreading the Salata love. They’ve already opened four San Antonio locations, as well as three in the Austin area. Hanlon’s goal is to have five San Antonio locations and seven in Austin. The growing chain has 58 locations in Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia and Florida.
Owning Salata is not Hanlon’s first exposure to restaurants. Her family also owns San Antonio favorite Alamo Café, making a career in the hospitality industry a natural fit. “My dream has always been to own my own resort — and take over Alamo Café,” she says. “My dad worked so hard, and it’s such a part of our family that I can’t imagine anyone else running it.”
But the lure of hotels is what pushed her to get her degree in hotel and restaurant management from Oklahoma State University. During college, her internships and jobs were at hotels, but within their restaurants, sparking a realization that restaurant management was more of a calling than she’d recognized. When the opportunity came to be a part of Salata, she decided to make the jump.
Hanlon started her post-college hospitality career with an event management and production company in Dallas, traveling nonstop, helping plan and manage corporate and team meetings and events.
“My father told me he knew that I would be successful in the restaurant industry based on how I responded to working events. Going nonstop, juggling whatever came up and finding solutions — working events was the perfect job for me coming out of college. It gave me the opportunity to see different parts of the hospitality industry. And I learned so much that applies to what I’m doing now, like changing things at the last minute to work around whatever obstacles arise,” she explains, adding, “I feel like you can throw any kind of customer my way and I can adapt. You have to. Working in events was a great training ground for that. You have to have an organized, logical mindset and always be troubleshooting. The answer is always yes. I just have to figure how it’s going to work.”
As franchise owner, Hanlon is ultimately responsible for everything: “I wear every hat. I started out in charge of our operations, making sure that everything we do is up to the Salata standard, but as we’ve grown, I’ve taken on a wider role.”
While she also relies on a district manager, to keep in touch with what is going on in each location Hanlon visits every store each week, usually hitting two stores per day. That schedule keeps her on the road between Austin and San Antonio all the time, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I like being in the day-to-day. I feel disconnected if I’m not checking in and talking with the team. I want to be there for them and support them,” she says.
When she’s at one of the stores, you won’t find Hanlon sitting down. She works the line and helps the team during the busy lunch and dinner rushes. “Your adrenaline kicks in, and you work together. I think it’s important for the team for me to be a part of that,” she says.
When she’s on-site, Hanlon doesn’t promote that she’s the owner, choosing instead to work side-by-side with the staff.
“When people find out I’m the owner, I get the shocked face and ‘Why are you here?’ But I love working with the team. I love getting to prep. And if they need help mopping floors or doing whatever, I’m here to help. I will never let anyone drown — if they need help, I’m here.”
Her hands-on attitude has gained Hanlon the respect of her team and gives her a firsthand perspective on what’s working in each store and what they need to improve. Hanlon also uses group texts as a way to stay in touch. “If one of the team has a question, someone else probably has the same question, so it keeps us on the same page,” she says.
Open communication is also key to keeping the team aligned, especially when things are busy. “We opened four locations in nine months, and right now we’re opening another three in the span of four months. Open communication is what keeps us all together.”
That also goes for the family behind the business. “I know everyone says going into business with your family is hard, but I love it,” she says. “I’m 50 percent my mom and 50 percent my dad, so working alongside them every day is a great fit. My brother, cousin, uncles — we really are a full family business. We’re honest and open — there’s no tiptoeing around what needs to get done. We all have our roles, and it works, ”
With all that Hanlon has tackled since jumping into the world of Salata four years ago, the thing that has surprised her most is people simply not showing up. “People not showing up for interviews, managers not showing up—just quitting without saying a word. That’s not how I was raised. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received is to always show up, even when you don’t want to. That’s when the biggest surprises will happen. And it’s always been true for me.”
She’s also learned that there’s no end to what you can learn from others. “You really have to be open to any kind of person who comes into your life,” she explains. “I’ve learned the most from people whom I judged too quickly. I get to work with so many different types of people, and they each bring different perspectives to what we do. I’ve learned something from all of them.”
So what’s ahead for Hanlon? When asked where she’d like to be in 10 years, having Salata continue to be successful was first, along with perhaps running Alamo Café. She also dreams of creating something new: her own franchise concept. “I don’t know what that is yet, but it’s something.” Based on her track record thus far, there’s no doubt it’s going to be a success.
By Dawn Robinette
Photography by Martin Waddy