Co-founders reflect on chain’s journey from college-town favorite to thriving 670-location enterprise.
Zaxby’s, the “indescribably good” fast-casual restaurant chain, famous for its chicken fingers and wings, is celebrating its 25th anniversary. It started in March 1990 as a local restaurant serving the college community of Statesboro, Georgia. Today, it is a rapidly expanding chain, with more than 670 corporate-owned and franchise locations throughout the southeastern United States and as far west as Utah.
The original Statesboro location is being rebuilt to reflect Zaxby’s commitment to its guests’ overall dining experience. Its new farmhouse design offers guests a high-end, fast-casual experience with redesigned exteriors, dining areas and kitchens. Point-of-sale and other improvements will further enhance food quality and increase speed of service. The restaurant is scheduled to reopen March 30 as part of the anniversary commemoration.
Zaxby’s founders, Zach McLeroy and Tony Townley, are still at the helm of the popular chain. The significance of the Statesboro restaurant reopening is not lost on McLeroy, Zaxby’s CEO and president.
“I never dreamed we would have nearly 700 locations, and I’m someone who dreams big,” said McLeroy. “It all started with our guests and giving them the best food possible. With this new design, we are tying it all together – great food, relaxing environment and faster service – to deliver an experience guests will want to come back for again and again.”Lifelong friends, McLeroy and Townley, the company’s executive vice president, “hatched” their idea for Zaxby’s – an upbeat, fun, relaxing place that served terrific chicken – after college. Today, just as in 1990, Zaxby’s remains true to that original concept: an alternative to fast food, where chicken fingers, wings, sandwiches and salads are prepared at order with fresh ingredients.
“The feedback and approval from our frequent customers was addictive,” said Townley. “It was the best compliment we could ever receive.”
Fueled by the overwhelming response, McLeroy traveled and opened new restaurants for the first five years. Their work ethic paid off and, Townley said, people began asking to be a part of the growing business. “There’s a universal appeal to things that are authentic.”
He and McLeroy sold their first franchise in 1994. They then set their sights on opening 10 stores, then 100, then 500, which were milestones they steadily achieved as the food – and the concept – grew in popularity.
Now headquartered in Athens, Ga., Zaxby’s is set to open 80 locations in 2015, proving the chain is no longer just a Southeast favorite and is growing its “fanatic” following as it moves from regional chain to national franchise concept with a history of humble beginnings and proven success.
An alternative to fast food, Zaxby’s offers its guests prepared-at-order Chicken Fingerz, Traditional or Boneless Wings, sandwiches, Zalads and Zappetizers, along with a variety of nine sauces ranging from Wimpy and Tongue Torch to Nuclear and Insane. Childhood friends Zach McLeroy and Tony Townley hatched the Athens, Ga.-based chain in 1990 to provide a fun, relaxing atmosphere that would keep guests coming back for more. Consumers ranked Zaxby’s as the Most Craveable Fast Casual in America, in Technomic’s Consumer Brand Metrics program for 2013 and 2014, and QSR Magazine listed the chain as one of the 12 Best Franchise Deals in 2013, as well as a Top 30 Best Fast Food Restaurant. In honor of the thousands of children the restaurant chain serves every year, Zaxby’s is a proud supporter of Make-A-Wish, The company operates more than 670 locations in 16 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia. For more information, please visit zaxbys.com, zaxbysfranchising.com, facebook.com/zaxbys or follow on Twitter @Zaxbys.