El Pollo Loco’s Former CEO Moves to Zaxby’s

Bernard Acoca becomes the first external CEO for the fast-casual brand.

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Bernard Acoca will take the reins at Zaxby's, succeeding the brand's co-founder and current CEO Zach McLeroy. Courtesy of Zaxby's.

After resigning from El Pollo Loco as CEO earlier this month “to pursue other opportunities,” Bernard Acoca has landed a new executive position as CEO of Zaxby’s.

Acoca will succeed Zaxby’s current CEO and co-founder, Zach McLeroy, who has led the brand for more than 30 years, making Acoca the first external CEO for the chain. McLeroy will transition to chairman of the company, effective January 2022.

Acoca had served as CEO of El Pollo Loco for the last three and a half years and was credited for leading the brand through a transformation in which digital e-commerce accelerated, drive-thru and back-of-house were streamlined and a new, contemporary restaurant design prepared the chain for franchise expansion.

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Zach McLeroy will transition to chairman of the company. Courtesy of Zaxby’s.

Before his time at El Pollo Loco, Acoca spent seven years at Starbucks as a member of the leadership team, served as chief marketing officer for the Americas for L’Oreal and worked for Yum Brands for a decade.

“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,” says Nicole Agnew, partner in the private equity business at Goldman Sachs and member of the Zaxby’s board of directors, in a press release.

Zaxby’s was founded by McLeroy and his childhood friend, Tony Townley, in 1990. Over the years, the Athens, Ga.-based brand has grown to more than 900 locations across 17 states.

“Leading Zaxby’s has been an incredible, life-changing journey,” says McLeroy in a press release. “I am truly fortunate to have worked alongside a unique group of talented team members and brand partners who all share the same dedication to our mission—consistently creating encore experiences that enrich lives, one person at a time.”

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