Throughout high school and college, Zach McLeroy was a stereotypical restaurant employee who used the job just to pay the bills. He never wanted a foodservice career; he wanted to play drums for a living. “I guess I was naïve thinking I could do that, but it sounded cool at the time,” says McLeroy, the 45-year-old chief executive and chairman of 400-unit Zaxby’s, a fast-casual fried-chicken chain based in Athens, Ga. But after college, while shooting baskets with ...

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