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Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream CEO Tom Sacco gets ready to enter his second year at the helm, he has been adding franchises at a record pace, recent rumors notwithstanding. But in order to fulfill his mission to restructure, revitalize and refresh the half-century-old Bettendorf-based company and prepare it for the next 50 years, he told the QCBJ he also had to make the tough call to close the brand’s last remaining company-owned locations in the Quad Cities. And on Sept. 2 the company filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in order to do so. The sites shuttered within the past month were the Happy Joe’s in Eldridge, the brand’s Maquoketa store and Davenport’s Rockingham Road location, which was among the chain’s first locations. In addition, the Happy Joe’s-owned Tony Sacco’s Coal Oven Kitchen, Eldridge, is no longer in operation. Mr. Sacco said the cost of retaining these aging stores with their out-sized rents and higher overhead was simply too much to justify, especially after losses from COVID-19 were factored into the equation. Essentially, Mr. Sacco said the company is paying 2022 prices to support 1980 locations. The closings also do not leave Happy Joe’s customers without a place to buy its signature pizzas or to soak up its unique atmosphere, Mr. Sacco said. Other stores nearby are serving displaced customers and employees from those locations were able to transfer to others in the Quad Cities. The company also will honor any coupons or deals from the original stores, he added. And he promised that customers in neighborhoods served by the old stores won’t pay any additional costs for delivery from those new locations. Mr. Sacco also took pains to stress that the decision on Sept. 2 to file a reorganization plan for the two corporate entities that once operated the company-owned locations was not a signal that the Happy Joe’s brand had stopped growing. Or, as some commenters suggested on radio and social media sites, that other stores were closed or were being closed. Mr. Sacco said one of his Happy Joe’s franchisees just outside the Quad Cities metro area heard on the radio driving in to open her Happy Joe’s location that it had been closed. She called the station to say it’s not only open, it’s going strong. It’s important to note, Mr. Sacco said the reorganization filing was limited solely to the two companies that operate Happy Joe’s company restaurants and Tony Sacco’s company restaurants, which are not associated with any franchise restaurants. “The one-two-three punch of COVID-19, rising food and labor costs, and recessionary fears have been too much for these older stores to overcome with today’s economic challenges,” he said at the time of the filing. “With COVID wreaking havoc on our industry, expensive sale-leasebacks of company-owned restaurants taking place just prior to my arrival, a significant increase in food costs exacerbated by supply chain issues, and an ever more difficult labor market, our challenges kept increasing exponentially,” he added. “We simply should not continue to deplete our strong flow of franchise revenue to cover losses from a couple of underperforming company restaurants. The company stores need to stand on their own.”