- Zaxby's has hired former El Pollo Loco chief Bernard Acoca as its first external CEO of the chicken chain effective in January, the company said Tuesday. Zach McLeroy, Zaxby's co-founder and current CEO, will transition to chairman of the company the same month after over 30 years leading the brand.
- Acoca resigned from his position at El Pollo Loco earlier in October after over three years.
- Zaxby's began a search for a new CEO earlier this year after McLeroy decided the best way for the company to capitalize on new opportunities was to bring in fresh talent with operational, strategic and marketing expertise to help lead the company's national expansion, McLeroy said in a press release.
Zaxby's, which was founded in 1990, has grown to over 900 locations across 17 states. Last year, Goldman Sachs' acquired a significant stake in the company, accelerating Zaxby's ambitions for growth nationally and possibly internationally.
The company is looking to improve its drive-thru efficiency, possibly through double-drive-thru lanes, as drive-thru was instrumental in getting the chain through the worst of COVID-19. During the pandemic, Zaxby's franchisees shifted staff to the drive-thru, curbside pickup and order-ahead, which kept wait times at four minutes, even when traffic at the drive-thru increased over 35%. Zaxby's didn't lose any of its units during the pandemic, and plans to open 25 new units this year, according to Franchising.com.
Acoca will bring over 20 years of experience to his new role, including seven years at Starbucks and 10 years with Yum Brands. During his time at El Pollo Loco, Acoca oversaw the brand's digital transformation, which included the launch of a loyalty program and new store designs that emphasized an off-premise experience. Acoca brings additional expertise to the off-premise channel, leading El Pollo Loco as it launched GPS-enabled curbside pickup and tested drone delivery during the pandemic.
"Bernard is a seasoned executive with a proven track record of driving sales and profits," Nicole Agnew, partner in the private equity business at Goldman Sachs and member of the Zaxby's board of directors said in the press release. "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."