Zaxby’s appoints new COO as brand seeks to accelerate growth

Zaxby’s, a Georgia-based premium quick-service restaurant franchise known for its Signature Sandwich, Chicken Fingerz™ and flavorful signature sauces, announced today that Sharlene Smith will serve as chief operating officer effective April 25, 2022. With more than 30 years of experience at some of the nation’s leading restaurant concepts, Smith will be instrumental in driving the company’s national expansion through operational effectiveness, system improvements and people development.

“Given that culture and quality have always been hallmarks of our brand, we needed an exceptional leader who has demonstrated capabilities for operational excellence as well as a passion for people,” said Bernard Acoca, Zaxby’s CEO. “Sharlene is an executive who balances vision with execution, and that makes her ideally suited to help accelerate our growth.”


With over three decades of operational experience within the restaurant industry and franchising, Smith is a proven leader of teams as well as growth strategies. Most recently, Smith served as vice president of operations excellence, North America for Papa John’s International, responsible for operations execution across 3,000 locations. There, she worked closely with a franchisee advisory council to ensure alignment on vision, strategic growth plans and system-wide initiatives.

“Our industry is experiencing rapid off-premise growth and the digitalization of practically every aspect of our business,” said Acoca. “Sharlene’s vast foundational experience with iconic brands in the areas of drive-thru and delivery, along with her abilities to build strong teams while scaling for growth will prove vital in the evolution of Zaxby’s.”

Before joining Papa John’s, Smith spent the bulk of her career in field leadership positions at McDonald’s Corporation where she led one of the largest, high-growth regions in the system with more than 850 company and franchised locations. She consistently exceeded year-over-year income growth and guest counts by improving performance metrics and adding new restaurants annually. Smith’s ability to lead and train cross-functional teams and her commitment to developing top talent garnered her recognition as a “National People Leader” through her work with the McDonald’s Corporation.

“Helping organizations develop talent, grow revenue and create systems for excellent service are my passion,” said Smith. “Zaxby’s is a company I am proud to join and has teams that I am honored to lead. I am particularly excited to be part of Zaxby’s during its next phase of growth.”

About Zaxby’s
Founded in 1990, Zaxby’s is committed to serving delicious chicken fingers, wings, sandwiches and salads in a fun, offbeat atmosphere where customers are considered friends. Zaxby’s iconic Signature Sandwich won Thrillist’s 2021 Fasties Award for Best Fried Chicken Sandwich. Zaxby’s has grown to more than 900 locations in 17 states and is headquartered in Athens, Georgia. For more information, visit or