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Fast-casual Pokeworks promotes Steve Heeley to CEO

Former chief, Mike Wu, transitions to culinary

Pokeworks has promoted Steve Heeley from CMO to chief executive officer effective immediately. Former CEO and co-founder Mike Wu will transition to a Head of Culinary role, which has been his passion, creating and designing new menu initiatives.

As Heeley’s promotion takes effect, the 60-unit fast-casual chain is gearing up to add 10 new restaurants by the end of the year, having introduced a new concept design this year.

“This announcement is a strategic part of our company’s evolution,” said Wu. “There are exciting times ahead, and I know Steve is looking forward to working with everyone at Pokeworks to help write the next pivotal chapters in our story.”

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As CMO since March 2021, Heeley joined Pokeworks with deep brand management expertise. His work in menu development and health-centric chains provides the right foundation. Before joining Pokeworks, Heeley served as CEO at Veggie Grill, helping propel the plant-based, fast-casual concept through rebranding, menu development and digital strategy. Heeley also held leadership roles at Earl of Sandwich, Au Bon Pain, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and Baja Fresh.

Heeley will move from a role heavy in revenue growth and digital & brand strategy as CMO, to serving as CEO and building systems and personnel teams to help grow and support Pokeworks’ franchise community.

[Related article: Pokeworks unveils new order-ahead store design]

“Pokeworks is an evolving restaurant, rising to meet the needs of consumer demand for high quality, premium fast casual options that are differentiated,” said Mike Chen, president and co-founder of Pokeworks. “Under Steve’s leadership, Pokeworks has and will continue to grow into a consumer-focused brand. With Steve’s past CEO experience and his commitment to setting Pokeworks up as the most trusted, premium poke brand, we have no doubt he will lead us to future success as we continue to innovate, adapt and grow with world-class franchise partners.”

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Pokeworks is growing and introducing new markets to what it describes as fresh and flavorful traditional Hawaiian-inspired poke. The Irvine, Calif.-based chain offers its Signature Works poke creations as well as its ‘Poke-Your-Way’ customizable option. Guests can select ingredients to build their own poke bowls, burritos or salads by selecting a base protein, including tuna, salmon, chicken, shrimp or tofu, to combine with regional mix-ins, flavoring sauces, and toppings.

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