Zaxby’s CEO, who sold drum set to start Georgia chain, drops back

McLeroy moves into chairman role after restaurant stake sale

Zaxby’s co-founder Zach McLeroy is leaving his role as chief executive officer of the Athens-based chain. The move comes a year after selling a big chunk of the company, one of the largest chicken restaurants businesses in the nation.

Bernard Acoca, who had led El Pollo Loco, will become Zaxby’s new CEO in January. McLeroy will become chairman of the company.

McLeroy, who had grown up in Oconee County and had dreamed of becoming a rock star, sold his drum set to help launch his first restaurant in 1990. He and childhood friend Tony Townley scrounged up funds to fix up a site near the campus of Georgia Southern University in Statesboro.

“Every subcontractor that would come work at the store would ask, ‘What are you going to serve?’” McLeroy recalled in a 2014 interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “‘Just chicken.’ Everybody would tell us good luck, but you are not going to make it. I had some fear over whether this concept would really work.”

Including franchisee-run stores, the chain now has more than 900 restaurants in 17 states. It was the 30th largest restaurant chain by U.S. sales last year and the fourth-largest chicken chain, behind Chick-fil-A, KFC and Popeyes, although Wingstop appeared to be catching up, according to industry consultant Technomic.

Last November, Zaxby’s announced it was selling “a significant stake” in the business to investment funds managed by Goldman Sachs. At the time, McLeroy said the deal would “accelerate our growth and expansion into a national brand.”

In a press release Tuesday, McLeroy said Acoca “is committed to growing our business while preserving the best of our heritage and culture.”

Credit: Zaxby's

Credit: Zaxby's

Credit: JOE N BORIS

Credit: JOE N BORIS

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