Zaxby’s names Sharlene Smith COO

Former Papa Johns’ executive to help drive Zaxby’s growth

Chicken QSR chain Zaxby’s named Sharlene Smith chief operating officer (COO). With 30+ years in restaurant industry leadership, Smith will take on her new role effective April 25.

Zaxby’s new COO will be expected to help drive the chain’s growth. This will be accomplished through operational effectiveness, system improvements and people development, Zaxby’s announced. The franchisor also said she is a “proven leader of teams as well as growth strategies.”

“Given that culture and quality have always been hallmarks of our brand, we needed an exceptional leader who has demonstrated capabilities for operational excellence as well as a passion for people,” said Bernard Acoca, chief executive of Zaxby’s. “Sharlene is an executive who balances vision with execution, and that makes her ideally suited to help accelerate our growth.”

Smith comes from Papa Johns, where she served as VP of operations excellence, North America. In that role, she was responsible for operations across 3,000 units. Smith also liaised closely with a franchisee advisory council. As the liaison, she helped to ensure an alignment of Zaxby’s with franchisees on vision, strategic growth plans and system-wide initiatives.

Acoca added, “Our industry is experiencing rapid off-premise growth and the digitalization of practically every aspect of our business. Sharlene’s vast foundational experience with iconic brands in the areas of drive-thru and delivery, along with her abilities to build strong teams while scaling for growth will prove vital in the evolution of Zaxby’s.”

Zaxby's named Sharlene Smith, a former Papa Johns' executive, chief operating officer.
Zaxby’s named Sharlene Smith, a former Papa Johns’ executive, chief operating officer. Photo by Zaxby’s.

Prior to Papa John’s, Smith spent a significant portion of her career in field leadership positions at McDonald’s Corporation. There, she led one of the largest, high-growth regions in the system, with more than 850 company and franchised locations. Smith is credited with exceeding year-over-year income growth and guest counts.

Also at McDonald’s, she received recognition as a “National People Leader” as a result of her ability to lead and train cross-functional teams and develop talent.

“Helping organizations develop talent, grow revenue and create systems for excellent service are my passion,” said Smith. “Zaxby’s is a company I am proud to join and has teams that I am honored to lead. I am particularly excited to be part of Zaxby’s during its next phase of growth.”


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