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Pokeworks has hired new executives to provide fresh perspective.

Former Veggie Grill CEO Steve Heeley joins Pokeworks as chief marketing officer as chain seeks to broaden its leadership

Larry Sidoti joins the chain as chief development officer and Michael Walters is promoted to chief operating officer

Steve Heeley, who was CEO of vegan chain Veggie Grill until last year, has joined 60-unit fast-casual poke concept Pokeworks as its chief marketing officer, replacing co-founder Kevin Hsu.

Hsu, though still a partner, is stepping away from management roles in the company, a Pokeworks spokespeerson said.

The Irvine-based chain also hired Larry Sidoti as its chief development officer, replacing co-founder Peter Yang who held that role in an interim capacity, the spokesperson said. It promoted Michael Walters to chief operating officer, a role he had held in an interim capacity since September. 

Prior to joining Veggie Grill in 2014, Heeley was CEO of Earl of Sandwich and before that was chief operating officer of Au Bon Pain and Collector’s Coffee, he also was vice president of operations of The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. In his new position, Heeley is not only responsible for marketing, but also branding and digital strategy, product development and customer relationship management, according to a release announcing the appointment of the three executives.

The release said that as interim COO Walters implemented procedures to make guests’ experience more consistent and also helped strengthen communications between the parent company and franchisees.

Sidoti most recently was CDO for Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh, and before that he held executive positions at Paris Baguette, Ruby's Diner, Yogurtland, Ms. Fields, and Juice it Up.

Pokeworks president and co-founder Michael Chen said he was looking forward to benefitting from the perspectives of the new hires.

"Pokeworks began with nine founders who shared a vision to create a concept that delivers fresh, healthy and delicious poke to all, and have grown from one location in Manhattan to over sixty locations worldwide in just five years," he said. "We strive to continue to innovate, grow and improve our operations, and that is why we are thrilled to welcome Michael, Steve and Larry to our team to help carry our vision while also giving us a new point of view."

Founded in 2015, Pokeworks took on a private equity partner, Tokyo-based Toridoll Holdings Corporation, in 2018 to help fund further expansion.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected] 

Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

Correction: March 24, 2021
This story has been updated with more information about the current positions of co-founders Kevin Hsu and Peter Yang.
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