The past few years have thrown obstacle after obstacle at the restaurant industry. From supply chain challenges to changing consumer preferences, restaurants have had to adapt, react, and pivot in order to stay resilient. For quick-service chain Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream, these challenges offered an opportunity to go above and beyond. In 2022, the beloved Midwestern brand celebrated its 50th anniversary — an achievement not many restaurants can boast about.
The Happy Joe’s team owes its continued success to its commitment to service and excellence. Now in Q1 2023, the brand is excited to continue building on the successes of last year.
Starting Off the Year Strong With New Menu Offerings
After 12 months full of new initiatives, growth, and expansions, the Happy Joe’s team decided to kick off the new year doing what it does best: creating innovative pizza pies. In January, fans were delighted to find a new item on the menu, the Happy Joe’s Jalapeño Popper Pizza. This game-day-worthy treat featured a cream cheese base infused with jalapeño juice, finished with crunchy potatoes, a blend of 100% real cheeses, crispy bacon, and freshly cut jalapeño for an extra bit of punch.
Tom Sacco, Happy Joe’s CEO and chief happiness officer, welcomed the new item in a recent statement.
“There’s no hotter place to start 2023 than at Happy Joe’s. With the combination of one of America’s most popular appetizers — the jalapeño popper — and our expertise for creating great-tasting and innovative food, we know this new pizza will put a smile on all our guests’ faces as they ring in the new year!”
Happy Joe’s didn’t stop there. On National Pie Day (Jan. 23), the restaurant put its extensive menu of sweets in the spotlight. Through Feb. 28, visitors can choose from a delicious lineup of dessert pizza options, like apple, cherry, blueberry, and cinnamon, for just $5.99. For pizza fans, this dessert deal is the perfect way to start the year — and finish a meal —with a bang.
These new offerings are just another example of how Happy Joe’s stands out. As Sacco noted, “We are a very different type of pizza brand. We look at our pizza dough as a blank canvas and we are not restricted by preconceived ideas of what toppings go on a pizza.”
It’s this openness to experimentation that’s helped drive its extensive menu forward in the past few years. “We are also different from our competition because we don’t look at pizza as a commodity, rather we look at pizza — and our pasta, as an extension of our pizzas — as creative, innovative, unique food products that touch breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert,” Sacco explained.
Happy Joe’s Highlights From 2022
Happy Joe’s has been going strong for decades. In 1972, “Happy Joe” Whitty had a unique dream. He wanted to bring together America’s two favorite foods — pizza and ice cream — with a fun, celebratory guest experience. First established in Bettendorf, Iowa, Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream quickly became a local favorite. Beloved for its creative recipes (like the first-ever taco pizza) and family-friendly atmosphere, Happy Joe’s created a restaurant like no other. Today, the quick-service chain is one of America’s most iconic pizza places. To date, it’s been recognized and named a FastCasual “Top 200” concept, Franchise Times “Top 400” business, and Nation’s Restaurant News “Top 500” restaurant. This year, it was recognized by the QSR “Top 50” as a rising star ready for new growth, along with Pizza Marketplace inducting Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream into the “Pizza Hall of Fame”.
The brand’s 50th anniversary isn’t the only thing the Happy Joe’s team celebrated in 2022. Along with a monumental expansion into the Middle East and North African market in the summer, the Iowa-based chain also made plans to expand its American footprint. In 2023, the company is scheduled to open the doors to six new restaurants. Locations will include St. Louis and Branson, Missouri, along with a redesigned concept in Navarre, Florida. Soon, the company will also bring its iconic pizzas to Texas and Arizona. And that’s not all. To put Happy Joe’s pizza in the hands of as many pizza fans as possible, the company is working on its first food truck, which will take its inventive pies and ice cream on the road.
To keep innovation at the forefront, the first company location is being rebranded with a new Harrison Architect & Design look. Additionally, the brand completed a full website refresh in March with a new look. Along with streamlining pickup and carryout service, the new website is helping make the ordering process more accessible and user-friendly. And for the first time, Happy Joe’s superfans across the U.S. can have their favorite pies shipped straight to them, thanks to the company’s new partnership with Goldbelly.
For CEO Tom Sacco, it’s an exhilarating moment for the brand. “We’re incredibly proud of the work our team has executed in our golden anniversary, positioning us for growth and a bright future. We look forward to showing our loyal guests what Happy Joe’s has in store for them and serving more communities this year and beyond with fun, quality, and pizza to make people happy.”
When the company wasn’t streamlining online orders or breaking ground on new locations, Happy Joe’s was doing what it does best — creating unique campaigns around its signature pies. In 2022, the brand launched several, including its Pasta Palooza, allowing guests to transform any of their favorite signature pizzas into a pasta dish. The Mexi-Fest highlighted the brand’s many Mexican-influenced dishes in honor of the original Taco Joe Pizza. Over the fall season, a new Bavarian-inspired menu celebrated Oktoberfest.
Franchisees of the company also enjoyed the spotlight last year. In 2022, Happy Joe’s signed two longtime managers as new franchisees in Illinois. Leslie Boyton took over operations at a new location in Galesburg, and Heather Avery stepped up as the new owner and operator of the brand’s Kewanee location. Additionally, franchisees Roger and Margaret Busan led the effort to reopen the Galena, IL , location, a move that led to record-breaking sales and community engagement.
To honor and highlight these achievements, Tom Sacco took to the stage in October to present 24 company awards across 11 categories. Franchisees, partners, and team members were recognized for their achievements at the biggest conference in the brand’s history.
For the Happy Joe’s brand, all signs point to a big year ahead. When asked about his thoughts on the restaurant industry at large, Sacco told QSR magazine:
“I expect 2023 to be very similar to 2022 regarding the restaurant trends we are experiencing, on the positive side, along with on the negative side. On the positive side, I expect to continue to see automation and innovation play a leading role in helping operators overcome the labor shortage we are wading through. I also expect to see comp store sales remain positive, but lower than the prior year, as the innovation will spill over into offerings, menu creativity, bundling, and [limited time offerings].”
Continuing The Tradition of Giving Back
Community service and philanthropy have been foundational to the Happy Joe’s brand since its beginnings, and it’s a commitment that continues to this day. In 2022, the company donated $1,000 to 50 families with special needs children as a part of its 50th anniversary. To help raise funds for this endeavor and to build excitement for guests, Happy Joe’s also gave away a 2022 Ford Explorer ST plus $17,000 to cover taxes to one lucky winner.
After a two-year hiatus, the brand resumed its famous annual holiday parties, honoring special needs children in the Quad Cities area of Iowa and Illinois. And if that wasn’t enough fun, Happy Joe’s also hosted its annual Kids Micro Marathon in partnership with the TBK Quad Cities Marathon.
It’s this commitment to community engagement and emotional connection that sets the brand apart, says Sacco. “Happy Joe’s is one of only a handful of worldwide brands that connect emotionally with our guests.”