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Effective February 2024, Joe Essa will work alongside Yardbird’s current executive team as he focuses on bringing increased operational excellence and strategic growth to the company in its next phase of development.

Yardbird names former president, CEO of Wolfgang Puck and Thomas Keller groups as president, chief operating officer

Joe Essa joins Yardbird Group to usher the modern Southern brand into its next phase of national and international growth

Following the thoughtful expansion of the award-winning, Miami-based Yardbird brand into markets across the globe since its inception in 2011, Chief Executive Officer John Kunkel is pleased to welcome Joe Essa, former president and CEO of Wolfgang Puck Worldwide and The Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, to the Yardbird Group as President and Chief Operating Officer. Effective February 2024, Essa will work alongside Yardbird’s current executive team as he focuses on bringing increased operational excellence and strategic growth to the company in its next phase of development. 

Tapped for his decades of experience growing the size, scope, and portfolio for some of the most revered names in the restaurant world (Wolfgang Puck, Thomas Keller, Gordon Ramsay), Essa brings a dynamic background of executive leadership spanning focuses including ownership, management, operations, marketing, business development, and strategy to his role as COO of Yardbird. As one of the most agile, adaptable, and well-respected multi-unit companies in the industry, Yardbird will lean on Essa’s expertise as it continues to strategically advance its footprint across key markets in the United States, Singapore and beyond.

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 onsite,” says Kunkel. “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 our employees.” 

I’ve dedicated my whole career to advancing and enhancing the relationships beloved brands have with their teams and communities. From mapping detailed growth plans to streamlining daily operations, I’m eager to combine a bit of everything from the past in this new role with such an exciting, internationally growing brand,” says Essa.  

Essa serves on the board for a variety of other key national organizations and businesses in the industry including the National Restaurant Association, Fransmart, GOOD PLANeT Foods, and Apex Supply Chain among others. 

ABOUT YARDBIRD: Synonymous with Southern decadence, James Beard Award-recognized Yardbird is the brainchild of 50 Eggs Hospitality Group founder John Kunkel. Since its inception in the heart of Miami Beach in 2011, Yardbird quickly gained fame for its unapologetically indulgent dishes and heady bourbon cocktails. Serving up nationally acclaimed comfort food for over a decade, Yardbird is a tribute to all the craveable American classics that bring people together, where guests can indulge in brunch, lunch, dinner, and a curated cocktail program highlighting a dynamic collection of bourbons. From Los Angeles to Singapore and everywhere in between, Yardbird has spread its wings on a global scale, upholding a current total of eight locations, each featuring a menu tailored to reflect the unique tastes of the city it calls home. Outposts include Miami Beach, Los Angeles, Dallas, Washington D.C., Las Vegas, Denver, Chicago, and Singapore. For more information, visit and follow Yardbird on Instagram @yardbirdrestaurants

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