Acoca joins as the first external CEO in the company’s history, succeeding CEO and founder Zach McLeroy, who led the company since its inception in 1990
Zaxby’s, the premium chicken QSR founded in Athens, Ga., announced today that CEO and Co-Founder Zach McLeroy will transition to chairman of the company effective January 2022, after more than 30 years leading the brand. Bernard Acoca has been appointed as the company’s new chief executive officer. Acoca’s experience leading some of the nation’s top restaurant concepts will be instrumental in driving the company’s growth, while McLeroy’s continued involvement will ensure the culture and founder-led history of Zaxby’s continue as a guiding principle.
“I am humbled by the success Zaxby’s has experienced since my co-founder and I launched the company three decades ago,” said Zach McLeroy, CEO and co-founder of Zaxby’s. “Earlier this year, I decided that the best way to capitalize on the enormous opportunities available to Zaxby’s was to bring in the brand’s first external chief executive officer. We have been engaged in a CEO search to find someone with the strategic, operational, and marketing expertise to accelerate Zaxby’s growth and lead our national expansion. We’re thrilled to have identified Bernard Acoca, a respected industry leader, to guide our future success. I wholeheartedly believe Bernard is committed to growing our business while preserving the best of our heritage and culture.”
Founded by childhood friends Zach McLeroy and Tony Townley in 1990, Zaxby’s serves delicious chicken fingers, wings, sandwiches and salads in a fun, offbeat atmosphere where customers are considered friends. Supported by a passionate, engaged franchisee community, the brand has grown to more than 900 locations across 17 states. “Leading Zaxby’s has been an incredible, life-changing journey,” McLeroy commented. “I am truly fortunate to have worked alongside a unique group of talented team members and brand partners who all share the same dedication to our mission––consistently creating encore experiences that enrich lives, one person at a time.”
With more than 20 years of experience as a marketer and executive within the restaurant industry, Acoca is a proven leader. He has served as CEO and president of El Pollo Loco, since March 2018. Over the last three and half years, Acoca led the brand through a transformation in which digital e-commerce rapidly accelerated, drive-thru and back of the house were streamlined, and the chain doubled-down on its L.A.-Mex brand positioning with a new contemporary restaurant design in preparation for aggressive franchise expansion domestically. Previously, Acoca spent seven years at Starbucks as a member of Leadership Team including as senior vice president, Marketing & Category for the Americas, where he was responsible for managing categories totaling $9B in sales, and as president of Teavana. Prior to that, Acoca served as chief marketing officer for the Americas for L’Oréal and spent 10 years at Yum! Brands.
“It is an honor to step into the shoes of Zach McLeroy as the first external CEO,” said Bernard Acoca, incoming chief executive officer of Zaxby’s. “Zach has built the Zaxby’s brand into more than just a quick-service chicken chain. He has found the secret to success is serving our communities quality food, providing team members with opportunity, creating a definable culture of service, and collaborating with strategic partners to grow the brand to new heights. I am thrilled to be joining Zaxby’s at this exciting milestone, and I look forward to working with the talented people in the Zaxby’s family to build upon the brand’s success.”
Nicole Agnew, partner in the Private Equity business at Goldman Sachs and member of the Zaxby’s Board of Directors, added, “Bernard is a seasoned executive with a proven track record of driving sales and profits. I am confident he has the experience and humility to lead Zaxby’s, its franchisees, and its employees to achieve new levels of success in the future. I am also deeply thankful that we will continue to have Zach’s stewardship of the brand as chairman and know that we will continue to be guided by his vision for Zaxby’s in the future.”
Founded in 1990, Zaxby’s is committed to serving delicious chicken fingers, wings, sandwiches and salads in a fun, offbeat atmosphere where customers are considered friends. Zaxby’s iconic Signature Sandwich won Thrillist’s 2021 Fasties Award for Best Fried Chicken Sandwich. Zaxby’s has grown to more than 900 locations in 17 states and is headquartered in Athens, Georgia. For more information, visit zaxbys.com or zaxbysfranchising.com.
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