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El Pollo Loco names Laurance Roberts CEO

Roberts has served as interim CEO and CFO since last fall, following the departure of Bernard Acoca, who left to take the top post at Zaxby’s.
El Pollo Loco
Photo: Shutterstock

El Pollo Loco on Thursday named Laurance Roberts CEO after he served as the fast-casual chicken chain’s interim head the last five months, the company announced.

Roberts will also continue to serve as interim chief financial officer while the chain searches for someone to fill that post.

“Larry has done an extraordinary job leading our company as our interim CEO and CFO during the past five months, navigating a challenging operating environment while making the El Pollo Loco brand stronger than ever,” Michael Maselli, board chairman, said in a statement. “With his deep and detailed knowledge of our business and the industry, the Board is confident in Larry’s ability to drive growth and long-term shareholder value.”

Roberts has served as CFO of the Costa Mesa, Calif.-based chicken chain since 2013.

With the announcement, he fills the post held by Bernard Acoca, who left the brand last fall to become CEO of fast-growing chicken finger chain Zaxby’s. Acoca had been at the helm of El Pollo Loco since 2018.

Roberts brings more than 20 years of restaurant experience to his new permanent post, including serving as COO and CFO of KFC and CFO of Pizza Hut in the United Kingdom.

“I am incredibly honored to assume this new role and equally thrilled for the future of the company,” Roberts said in a statement. “With the strong foundation our team has built over the last few years, we are excited about the opportunity to move our brand forward and are ready to execute on our strategic priorities to further strengthen our business and deliver long-term growth.”

Roberts on Thursday said his 480-unit chain had been “negatively impacted” by the omicron surge, particularly in January and February.

For the quarter ended Dec. 29, El Pollo Loco’s same-store sales increased 11%. Total revenue fell about 1%, to $109 million. Restaurant contribution margin was 15.7%.

As of Feb. 23, year-to-date same-store sales increased 7.4%, largely due to a 11.2% increase at franchised restaurants.

For 2022, El Pollo Loco said it intends to open three to six new company-owned restaurants and six to 10 new franchised locations.

“While January and February were negatively impacted by the omicron surge, system comparable restaurant sales continued to grow and have strengthened, as the impact has waned in recent weeks,” Roberts said in a statement.

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