Joe Essa named president, COO of Yardbird

Known for his work with Wolfgang Puck Worldwide and Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, Essa is tasked with helping to grow the casual-dining concept around the world.
Yardbird restaurant
The casual-dining Yardbird is known for decadent Southern fare and a cocktail program that includes a massive bourbon collection. | Photo: Shutterstock.

Industry veteran Joe Essa is joining the Yardbird Group as it launches into a next phase of growth.

Essa on Monday was named president and chief operating officer of the Miami-based chain, which is part of the 50 Eggs Hospitality Group founded by John Kunkel. The casual-dining Yardbird has eight units, mostly in the U.S., but including an international location in Singapore.

Essa is the former president and CEO of Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, which operated the casual-dining concepts within the group and also oversaw consumer products, cookware and appliances associated with Puck’s name. More recently, Essa was president and CEO of the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, and he is a former chairman of the National Restaurant Association in 2019. He also serves on a number of boards, including Fransmart, Good Planet Foods and Apex Supply Chain.

“Essa is peerless in the breadth of experience and success he’s had leading top industry names in their expansion plans, in addition to manning day-to-day operational optimization and excellence on site,” said Kunkel in a statement. “His help will be invaluable in continuing to make each of our restaurants a place that provides outstanding service and quality to each of our guests, as well as a familial and supportive work environment for all our employees.”

Yardbird is the largest of 50 Eggs brands, which also include the concept Chica, in collaboration with chef Lorena Garcia; and the fast-casual Spring Chicken at Miami International Airport and Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium. The group’s newest concept is Wakuda, a Japanese restaurant created with chef Tetsuya Wakuda, with locations in Singapore and Las Vegas.

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