Co-founder and outgoing CEO to become chairman of the Board of Directors
Zaxby’s named Bernard Acoca chief executive officer of the chicken QSR chain effective January 2022 upon the transition of co-founder and current CEO, Zach McLeroy, to chairman of the Board. McLeroy led the company for 30 years, growing the brand, developing a culture, and eventually landing a significant investment from the Goldman Sachs Merchant Banking Division last November.
“It is an honor to step into the shoes of Zach McLeroy as the first external CEO,” said Bernard Acoca, incoming chief executive of Zaxby’s. 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.”
McLeroy’s continued involvement in the company signals that Zaxby’s will retain its culture and founder-led principles, it announced.
Commenting on the selection of Acoca, McLeroy said, “ 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.”
He added, “I am humbled by the success Zaxby’s has experienced since my co-founder and I launched the company three decades ago. 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.”
Founded in 1990 by Zach McLeroy and Tony Townley, Zaxby’s offers a menu of chicken fingers, wings, sandwiches and salads in what it describes as “a fun, offbeat atmosphere where customers are considered friends.” With the momentum of engaged franchisees and financial support of Goldman Sachs, Zaxby’s has grown to 900 locations in 17 states. In plans ongoing expansion, with a particular focus on the Central and Western United States, where it has a lot of white space.
Acoca brings two decades of leadership and marketing experience within the restaurant industry. Prior to joining Zaxby’s, he served as chief executive and president of El Pollo Loco starting in March 2018. Acoca led the brand through a transformation, and he is credited with accelerating the brand’s digital e-commerce evolution, advancing its drive-thru initiatives and streamlining back of the house functions. Under his leadership, the brand focused on its L.A.-Mex brand positioning and launched a new, contemporary restaurant design with the acceleration of consumer adoption of to-go dining and digital ordering.
Before working at El Pollo Loco, Acoca spent seven years at Starbucks as a member of Leadership Team including as SVP, Marketing & Category for the Americas, where he was responsible for a cross-section of categories with $9B in sales, in addition to serving as president of Teavana. Prior to Starbucks, Acoca served as chief marketing officer for the Americas for L’Oréal and worked at Yum Brands.
Nicole Agnew, partner in the private equity business at Goldman Sachs and member of the Zaxby’s Board of Directors, noted, “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.”
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