Pokeworks Appoints Restaurant-Industry Veteran Steve Heeley as CEO
Under Heeley’s Leadership the Largest Poke Brand Positions for Accelerated Growth and National Expansion
August 12, 2021 // Franchising.com // IRVINE, Calif. - In a move to bolster its growth strategy and strengthen the brand, Pokeworks announces the promotion of Chief Marketing Officer Steve Heeley to Chief Executive Officer, effective immediately. Heeley’s appointment comes at a pivotal time for the brand as it rolls out new restaurant design and development projects, menu innovations and major additions to the C-Suite, fueling rapid franchise development as the brand is on track to add 10 locations by the end of 2021.
Heeley joined the Pokeworks team as CMO in March 2021 with an extensive background in brand management, menu creation and health-centered restaurant development. Prior to joining the Pokeworks team, Heeley held the role of CEO at Veggie Grill, where he spearheaded the growth of the plant-based, fast-casual concept through rebranding, new menu development and digital transformation. His roster of past executive roles held in the industry include Earl of Sandwich, Au Bon Pain, The Coffee Bean Tea Leaf and Beja Fresh. In his role as CMO of Pokeworks, Heeley has overseen the marketing department while spearheading efforts surrounding revenue strategy, including brand and digital strategy, product development and customer relationship management. As he steps into the CEO position, Heeley will be working passionately to build the brand, team and systems to support the success of all franchise operators.
“It has been exciting and humbling to be part of the tremendous growth of this brand,” said Heeley. “Pokeworks’ founders, management team, and franchise partners have done an incredible job of growing Pokeworks into a hugely successful national brand in a short period of time. I am excited to build on this foundation and help guide Pokeworks into the future with our shared vision to become the most trusted, leading, premium fast casual poke brand in the world. Poke is no longer a trend; it has matured into a broadly accepted growth category in fast casual.”
The brand’s performance in the past few years has earned multiple awards wins, including being ranked as one of NRN’s Top Five Concepts in 2018, inclusion in Fast Casual’s Top 100 Movers and Shakers three years in a row, including being ranked in the top five brands for 2019 and 2020, and inclusion in Entrepreneur’s Franchise 500 ranking in 2021. Pokeworks has set aggressive expansion goals to double new store commitments in 2021 and 2022 as it seeks multi-unit operators throughout the United States and internationally.
“Pokeworks is an evolving restaurant, rising to meet the needs of consumer demand for high quality, premium fast casual options that are differentiated,” said Mike Chen, President and Co-Founder at Pokeworks. “Under Steve’s leadership, Pokeworks has and will continue to grow into a consumer-focused brand. With Steve’s past CEO experience and his commitment to setting Pokeworks up as the most trusted, premium poke brand, we have no doubt he will lead us to a future success as we continue to innovate, adapt and grow with world-class franchise partners.”
As part of the executive moves, Mike Wu, past CEO and co-founder of Pokeworks, will be stepping into the role of Head of Culinary. In this role, he will focus efforts on menu ideation and cultivation, which have been his passion since beginning his time with Pokeworks in 2015.
“This announcement is a strategic part of our company’s evolution,” said Wu. “There are exciting times ahead, and I know Steve is looking forward to working with everyone at Pokeworks to help write the next pivotal chapters in our story.”
As the nation’s largest poke brand, Pokeworks has led the growth of the premium poke industry, known for fresh and flavorful traditional Hawaiian-inspired poke. The brand is known for its Signature Works poke creations as well as its ‘Poke-Your-Way’ option for guests to build their own poke bowls, burritos or salads by selecting a base protein - tuna, salmon, chicken, shrimp and tofu, unique regional mix-ins, flavoring sauces, toppings and crunchy texture.
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