Happy Joe’s Sets Its Sights on North Texas Expansion
Happy Joe’s, home of the first taco pizza, is making big moves in 2023. After breaking ground on new international locations last summer, the beloved Midwestern quick-service chain is planning to enter the Lone Star State.
New franchisee group HJ SMS OpCo, LLC is leading the brand’s expansion into north Texas, with plans to open a new Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream location in either Grand Prairie, Cedar Hill, Duncanville, DeSoto, or Arlington. The group is Happy Joe’s first minority- and Black-led franchisee, and member Rickey McBride is excited to take this historic step forward with a brand he grew up with.
McBride and his partners look back fondly on their memories of the iconic pizza parlor. Each of them grew up in the Quad Cities area of Iowa and Illinois, with Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream a consistent source of great food and fun. A Davenport Central High alum, McBride said he celebrated many birthday parties, sports team wins, and fun nights out at Happy Joe’s, eating pizza and playing games to his heart’s content.
“Happy Joe’s has always been family-oriented,” McBride said. “It was always someplace where kids could play while parents converse.”
McBride attended Georgia Southern University and went on to become a successful business owner in Atlanta. Currently, McBride is one of America’s largest suppliers of sea moss and runs a health food store in Duluth, Georgia. When he noticed that Happy Joe’s launched a new, healthier cauliflower pizza crust option, he knew it was time to reach out to the brand.
The group hopes to open its first location by the end of the 2023 summer season. Each of its top choices are areas in Texas with 40% or higher minority populations. This was a big factor in their location search, as the Black-owned group aims to bring new jobs to these diverse areas. McBride said his group’s ultimate goal is to open Texas’ first Happy Joe’s in the multi-unit agreement in the southern Dallas suburbs of Grand Prairie or Cedar Hill. However, if
it isn’t they aren’t able to find the right location in either of these neighborhoods, the group will look to nearby Arlington instead.
As McBride explained in a recent press release, “We’re happy to be the first minority group of Happy Joe’s. To add jobs to areas that minorities are based in has been a goal for all the owners.”
Thanks to the group’s close ties with both family and friends in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, entry into this new market was an easy decision. With Texas being one of the few minority-majority states in the U.S., McBride and company saw a unique opportunity to bring Happy Joe’s Midwestern charm to new audiences. That’s why once the opportunity presented itself, the franchisee group quickly took action.
“There are lots of places you can get pizza, but there’s only one place that gives you a unique pizza experience like Happy Joe’s,” said McBride. “The brand is extremely creative with their offerings, and they have a wide variety of pizzas for every discriminating palate. Happy Joe’s knows how to treat people right, and they constantly come up with different options to bring in new guests — two things that I always look for with my business ventures. I can’t express how excited my group is to not just be the first minority-owned franchises, but to also be the first ones bringing Happy Joe’s to Texas.”
Founded in 1972, Happy Joe’s opened its first location in Bettendorf, Iowa. With its focus on family-friendly fun and unique pizzas, the chain quickly grew into a Midwestern sensation. Their original Taco Joe pizza was the first of its kind and set the standard for culinary innovation the brand is known for today. Currently, the brand oversees three company locations and 45 franchise locations throughout the Midwest, Florida, and Egypt.
For the company’s Chief Happiness Officer and CEO, Tom Sacco, this new expansion into Texas represents a big step forward for the brand. “This is a huge moment for us as an organization because we are diversifying as we continue to expand,” he noted in a February release. “We are passionate about making great pizza and creating countless memories for everyone that comes into Happy Joe’s. Having more minority-, veteran- and female-owned franchises allows us to gain greater perspective on those core ideals as our footprint continues to grow. Ultimately, we want to reflect our guests across this great country that we call home.”
He continued, “We are thrilled to present our first Black-owned franchise group in February as a tribute to Black History Month, as Happy Joe’s continues to expand its ‘Happy Places’ and iconic pizza offerings across the southern U.S.”
While a first location has yet to be determined, McBride and his friends turned business partners are more than ready to bring the Happy Joe’s brand to Texas. Over the next few years, the group will continue to spearhead new locations farther south, ensuring pizza fans from across the state, and around the globe, can enjoy the iconic Happy Joe’s experience.
Continuing a Year of Global Expansion
This recent move into Texas comes on the heels of worldwide growth. In 2022, the quick-service restaurant started its Middle East expansion, first putting roots down in the suburbs of Cairo in Egypt. And while this is the restaurant’s first modern global expansion into the Middle East, it’s actually not the first time the brand has opened a location abroad.
In the 1980s and ’90s, founder “Happy Joe” Whitty partnered with Egyptian franchisee Mohamed Magdy Elbatran and his two brothers. This collaboration led to the opening of several locations in Cairo, with one location especially famous for its design: It was shaped like an ancient Egyptian barge on the Nile.
And, as fate would have it, this earlier partnership was the perfect groundwork for the brand’s modern global strategy. As Sacco explained, it started with the restaurant getting attention from new prospective franchisees.
“We had gotten some press about our brand’s expansion and had two different groups reach out to us over the same four-month time frame expressing interest in bringing Happy Joe’s to Egypt and the Middle East,” he said.
One of these groups was led by experienced entrepreneur Ahmed Elbatran, Mohamed’s son. Thanks to their previous familiarity with the brand, Sacco and the Happy Joe’s team decided to move forward with Ahmed and his group, H.J. Middle East LLC. A family-owned business group, Ahmed, its president, is working alongside his father as well as relatives Abeer Ahmed Abdelhalim Elkabbany and Zina Mohamed Magdy Elbatran to bring Happy Joe’s magic to North Africa and the Middle East.
“After signing our master franchise agreement last fall, we’re thrilled to start opening our doors over the next few months,” said Ahmed Elbatran. “Nothing compares to Happy Joe’s one-of-a-kind fun and family-friendly atmosphere in the entire Middle East and North Africa region. So, we can’t wait to bring the iconic brand back to Egypt under the new leadership, vision, and energy that Chief Happiness Officer, CEO, and President Tom Sacco has reenergized Happy Joe’s brand with. We are looking forward to bringing the community together, creating lifelong magical memories at Happy Joe’s.”
Ahmed and his family kicked off the summer 2022 season by opening their first location in the Cairo suburb of Roxy, Heliopolis. The location quickly became a fan favorite, with the opening weekend drawing massive crowds and lines of families stretched out the door. With such an incredible opening weekend, it quickly became clear that there is a real appetite for unique pizzas, ice cream, and family-centric fun in the Egyptian market. Within just a few weeks of opening, Happy Joe’s first Egyptian location already tracked 22% higher foot traffic than its U.S. counterpart.
After a successful opening in Roxy, H.J. Middle East L.L.C. will open its next location in the Giza suburb of Sodic, followed the next week by another opening close to New Cairo, called Lotus. Again, crowds surged into the new quick-service restaurant, eager to experience the America-based chain. As staff became more knowledgeable about the brand, the spot launched new dishes and convenient features for guests. Today, Egyptian pizza fans can get their favorite pies delivered and can enjoy weekday buffets and weekend brunch. So far, the most popular items on the menu are the Chicken Ranch Pizza, BBQ Beef Pizza, Pepperoni Pizza, milkshakes, and the brand’s famous Chicken Taco Joe Pizza.
Over the next few years, the group plans to open an additional eight locations across Cairo, including spots in the Mall of Arabia and the Mall of Egypt. Looking beyond Egypt, the franchisee group has also been awarded 25 additional units for expansion, with their sights on Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
As Happy Joe’s grows from Midwestern-based crowd-pleaser to global superstar, CEO Tom Sacco sees all of this as a sign of even greater things to come. “We couldn’t be prouder of the work that Ahmed and his team have done on this incredible opening in Roxy,” he explained. “We’ve even been able to learn from this experience and will be testing out some changes the H.J. Middle East team made to the Chicken Ranch Pizza and the BBQ Beef Pizza in select U.S. markets. Now, we’re fully expecting Ahmed and his team to produce record sales on their next opening in west Giza, starting with a fabulous preopening party, including U.S. and Egypt government dignitaries, professional athletes, and a strong media buzz.”
Ahmed Elbatran and his family are thrilled to bring the Happy Joe’s experience to their home country. Working alongside Sacco, the group will continue to spearhead the company’s North African and Middle Eastern expansion, tailoring each location to meet the unique needs of its customers. For example, new international menus will help restaurants cater to local tastes, with new Egyptian locations set to expand their seafood and chicken options.
Continuing his father’s legacy is a big milestone for Ahmed, who can’t wait to see the company grow abroad.
“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,” Elbatran said in a recent press release. “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.”