Quad Cities’ born Happy Joe’s Pizza is hoping to begin sprinkling its unique “fairy dust” over restaurant-goers in Cairo, Egypt, as early as this summer. That’s when Tom Sacco, president and CEO of Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream, says the 50-year-old brand’s Cairo-based master franchising partner, H.J. Happy Joe’s for Restaurants LLC., plans to […]
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Quad Cities’ born Happy Joe’s Pizza is hoping to begin sprinkling its unique “fairy dust” over restaurant-goers in Cairo, Egypt, as early as this summer.
That’s when Tom Sacco, president and CEO of Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream, says the 50-year-old brand’s Cairo-based master franchising partner, H.J. Happy Joe’s for Restaurants LLC., plans to begin opening six new Happy Joe’s restaurants in Egypt. That’s on top of the U.S. franchise agreements inked this year.
The Middle Eastern restaurants are 40 years in the making and they involve familial relationships that stretch back to the 1980s.
Since Mr. Sacco took over the 46-franchise chain, born in Davenport and founded by Lawrence Joseph “Happy Joe” Whitty in 1972, the unique family-centric pizza chain has signed 28 franchise deals worldwide, resulting in more than a 60% increase in locations. Mr. Sacco also oversaw the opening of five restaurants. That’s more than Happy Joe’s had opened in the previous five years.
Happy Joe’s growth shows no signs of slowing down as it expects to celebrate its Golden Anniversary year in 2022 with record growth. The agreement with its new Egypt-based partner is expected to ultimately add between 50 and 75 new Happy Joe’s-branded restaurants in the Middle East and North Africa.
Mr. Sacco boasts more than 30 years of experience operating and growing brands domestically and globally, including at Ponderosa and Red Robin. He had thought about retiring. Instead, these days he’s dedicated to spreading the magical powder he says Happy Joe Whitty’s restaurants share with those who visit them. It is a one-of-a-kind sensory and emotional experience that is handed down from generation to generation, he said.
”If you have had that fairy dust sprinkled on you, it impacts you for a lifetime,” he said. So much so that he’s committed to ensuring that his own grandchildren will one day be able to share the magic of the unique Happy Joe’s experience with their own children.
There also may have been some of that fairy dust at work, or at least a bit of luck, Mr. Sacco said, in the current expansion plan and Happy Joe’s return to the Land of the Pyramids. As some Quad Citians of a certain age might recall, back in the 1980s Happy Joe Whitty had six franchises operating in Egypt, including one shaped like a Nile River boat.
Those restaurants were closed before the turn of the century, but they played a significant part in the latest deal with master franchisee Ahmed El Batran, Mr. Sacco said. Ahmed is the son of Magdy El Batran, who as a college student in America fell in love with Happy Joe’s pizza and its restaurant experience. A young Magdy had worked for Joe Whitty here, and Happy Joe promised to teach him the trade and set him up as a franchisee, Mr. Sacco told the QCBJ.
Four of Mr. Whitty’s six original restaurants in Egypt were owned and operated by Magdy and his brother in the 1980s and 1990s.
Years later, Magdy’s son Ahmed El Batran, who also later went to college in America, caught some of the Happy Joe’s magic created at his father’s restaurants. When he learned through media reports in Egypt that the chain was again looking to expand to the Middle East, he quickly signed on.
Egypt is just the first stop in the younger Mr. El Batran and Mr. Sacco’s ambitious expansion schedule. The Cairo restaurants are expected to be joined by franchises in countries including Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Oman, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. over the next 10 years.
Mr. Sacco touted the El Batran family’s experience in franchising as well as in education through the ED World schools the family runs for kindergarteners through college students. Those schools will help the master franchisee train future employees for corporate roles as well as to staff its Happy Joe’s Pizza and & Ice Cream parlors.
“Happy Joe’s is so much more than just a delicious pizza restaurant, and I can’t wait for people in this part of the world to experience a place where kids and families create and celebrate memorable moments together,” Mr. El Batran said when the deal was announced last September. “Pizza delivery is widely popular in Egypt, and we’ll offer it, but nothing in this area compares to the magical dine-in atmosphere at Happy Joe’s. We’re proud to introduce this iconic brand to the Middle East and continue growing it throughout the region.”
That dine-in experience as much as the signature dishes Happy Joe’s creates is what Mr. Sacco is passionate about spreading. And he expects this Middle Eastern expansion to springboard Happy Joe’s into South Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia. “We look forward to working with Ahmed as Happy Joe’s prepares to scale new heights globally,” he said.
When asked if he ever regretted forgoing retirement to lead Happy Joe’s ambitious plan for spreading new franchises across the globe, Mr. Sacco told the QCBJ, “I love this brand. I understand the emotional way people talk about the experiences that last a lifetime.”
Now he’s more eager than ever to spread Happy Joe’s magic.
“How do I get us to 500 restaurants?” Mr. Sacco asked. “That’s my goal.”