Happy Joe’s Chief Happiness Officer reveals his recipe for success 

Headquartered in Davenport, Iowa, Happy Joe’s Pizza and Ice Cream Ltd (Happy Joe’s) was founded in 1972 by Lawrence ‘Joe’ Whitty, a professional baker known as Happy Joe. Originally a single, family-owned pizza and ice cream restaurant, Happy Joe’s has since evolved into an iconic Midwestern pizza chain. With over 50 restaurants throughout the US, the company is renowned for its signature specialty pizzas, ice cream, birthday parties, Happy the Dog mascot, and most importantly, for creating cherished memories for generations of guests. Happy Joe’s remarkable expansion led to international ventures, including several restaurants in Egypt, with plans to establish a further 25 units across the Middle East. 

Waitress with a tray of ice cream dessertsPeople first 

Happy Joe’s fosters entrepreneurial self-confidence for existing and new franchise owners through brand guidance, ongoing training, and support within its franchise system. As the company expands into new markets, it consistently seeks minority, veteran, and female-owned franchise candidates to join the Happy Joe’s brand. Thomas (Tom) Sacco, Chief Happiness Officer, CEO and President, discusses his unique role within Happy Joe’s. “Strategically, it is crucial for me to work with our department heads to position our brand to be the leader in its sub-segment of the pizza industry. This encompasses various tactical aspects of the business, including menu innovation, technology enhancements, supply chain and distribution on both national and international scales, modernization, and relevance of Happy Joe’s interior, exterior, and signage design, as well as advancements in social media awareness and engagement. Furthermore, my focus is on growing the brand through domestic and international expansion by welcoming new franchisees alongside existing franchisees who have been with us for 20-to-40 years,” he begins. 

Tom explains how he came to lead Happy Joe’s on its path to success. “Throughout over 40 years in this industry, I have specialized in revitalizing companies that possess solid foundations but have lost their way. When the founder of Happy Joe’s passed away over a decade ago, the family sold the business to leadership from the low-end, value-oriented pizza sector. Unfortunately, this shift began to erode the values that this company stood for. Subsequently, store closures and declining sales indicated to our investors that the new leadership failed to meet our guests’ expectations. Recognizing the need for change, I was brought in four years ago to rescue the business, and we have experienced tremendous success ever since. Customers love the Happy Joe’s brand again, fueling our growth and getting our employees and franchise community excited. The key to this lies in my distinct leadership style. Indeed, I prioritize leading with a servant’s heart, placing the well-being of my staff, vendors, shareholders, and, most importantly, our guests above personal gain or profit. This mindset stems from my years in the industry, where I have learned that by genuinely caring for others and setting high standards, profits will organically follow suit,” he explains. 

Premium quality Exterior of happy joes restaurant

When Tom assumed his role, his vision for Happy Joe’s revolved around establishing it as a ‘Happy Place’ for children and their families, as well as making a positive impact on communities. “What sets Happy Joe’s apart from the multitude of other pizza brands is primarily attributed to two major factors. The first one is that we serve a truly higher-end product compared to the largest brands in the market. In fact, our food items contain significantly more protein and involve a higher production cost to ensure premium quality. But most notably, it is our dedication to making children happy and providing a safe haven for them that makes us unique. We firmly believe that every child, regardless of their socio-economic background, deserves happiness, and we have mastered the art of accomplishing just that. Consequently, we have cultivated a loyal following of families spanning generations who cherish the experiences we create and provide. Creating and spreading joy is rooted in our company culture. For example, during a recent meeting with my head of marketing, we discussed the numerous random acts of kindness we had done the week of Valentine’s Day. I believe that being kind to others doesn’t always require a capitalist motivation; it’s simply nice to be kind for no reason. Following this principle, we strive to craft extraordinary experiences for the children we serve during birthday parties, communions, sporting events, school functions, and other events families wish to celebrate. At Happy Joe’s, our purpose lies in creating unforgettable, magical memories,” he highlights. 

Award-winning memories 

The kindness with which Tom leads Happy Joe’s extends beyond his loyal customers and begins with his own staff. “I never hire junior or senior leaders solely based on skills or experience, but rather on attitude and character. I am a firm believer that by leading with a servant’s heart, I can coach, mentor, teach, and train the candidate with the skills and experience required to be successful in the restaurant industry. However, if the candidate lacks a servant’s heart it becomes challenging for me to teach, mentor, or even inspire them to prioritize their team, guests, vendors, shareholders, and service providers above themselves. Servant leadership is a special gift a lucky few are born with. Thus, it is my fortunate opportunity to help individuals with this gift to grow and share it with everyone,” he reveals. 

With Tom being recognized as number eight in International Pizza Expo’s list of top 25 pizza restaurant executives in the world in 2023, and again in 2024, and Happy Joe’s placing second for menu innovation at the same event and making the Top 25 Pizza Brands worldwide in 2024, the business is clearly on an upward trajectory. Tom acknowledges that awards such as this reflect the efforts of the whole team – ‘I had my staff go up and get the trophy,’ he says. With Tom at the helm, Happy Joe’s looks set to create more happy memories for generations to come.