Benard Acoca – Zaxby CEO and Co-Founder Zach McLeroy

Bernard Acoca, the co-founder and CEO of Zaxby’s, is a man of many hats. After starting his career in real estate and saving up enough money to make his first start-up offer at age 25, Acoca has built an empire in the food industry. He has more than 8,000 locations worldwide that grossed $1 billion in revenue last year alone. Zaxby’s started as a two-person operation with Acoca as one of its founders.

  1. Early Life

Bernard Acoca was born in Covington, Georgia, on September 26, 1970. He graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in economics and business administration in 1996. After graduation, Acoca began working at Smith Barney Harris Upham & Co, where he held management positions that helped him gain the experience he would need later in his career. Bernard Acoca then received an offer from the Atlanta branch of NBD Bancorp to work as a broker in its credit division. The position was lucrative, with a starting salary of $46,000. Acoca held this job for four years and simultaneously learned much about business management.

  1. Career

Acoca and his partner, Sherwood Hardin, opened their first Zaxby’s in a downtown Atlanta office building. The restaurant, which was intended as a gift to the employees Acoca had worked with at Smith Barney Harris Upham & Co., featured chicken finger sandwiches and other sandwiches on grilled biscuits. The two operated the restaurant for nearly three years until Acoca felt that he and Hardin were no longer making any new hires. At that point, Acoca began looking for a replacement to take over operations at the location.

  1. Achievements

Acoca opened his second Zaxby’s in 1994 in Columbus, Georgia. The restaurant was located just a few blocks from the Sanderson Centre, making Zaxby’s an immediate sensation. This second restaurant quickly prompted Acoca to open his third Zaxby’s in 1995 in Athens, Georgia. This location proved timely because it offered some of the first hot chicken available to the public.

Acoca and then-sidekick Sherwood Hardin eventually parted ways, and Acoca continued as CEO at Zaxby’s alone. He then took on additional roles as executive vice president and chief operating officer of Zaxby’s CEO before becoming board chairman in January 2007. Click here for more information.

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