ATHENS, GA. — Fast-casual chicken chain Zaxby’s announced this week that Zach McLeroy, current chief executive officer and co-founder of the company will move to the role of chairman, effective January 2022.

McLeroy started the business in 1990 with his co-founder Tony Townley. The chicken chain has now expanded to more than 900 locations in 17 states. 

"I am humbled by the success Zaxby's has experienced since my co-founder and I launched the company three decades ago," McLeroy said. "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.”

The first external CEO will be Bernard Acoca who served as CEO and president of El Pollo Loco since March 2018. Acoca has worked more than 20 years as an executive and marketer in the restaurant business. During his time with El Pollo Loco he accelerated the e-commerce business, streamlined the drive-thru and back of the house operations and expanded the company’s LA-Mex brand positioning. 

"It is an honor to step into the shoes of Zach McLeroy as the first external CEO," said Bernard Acoca, incoming CEO 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.” 

Before El Pollo Loco, Acoca spent seven years at Starbucks as senior vice president of marketing and category for the Americas, where he was responsible for managing categories totaling $9 billion 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.