Jan 02, 2023 10:31 PM

50 Years of Happy Joe's

Posted Jan 02, 2023 10:31 PM

Above: Deb and Will Brinkley own the Burlington Happy Joe's franchise, and Stephanie Bailey is their manager. Happy Joe's marked its 50th anniversary as a chain in mid-November. The Brinkleys have owned this restaurant for 26 years, but the restaurant first opened in Burlington in 1978. Photo/Chris Faulkner

By Chris Faulkner

Fifty years later, pizza lovers still go away happy after dining at Happy Joe’s.

Although the restaurant chain founder, Joe Whitty, died in 2019 at the age of 82, owners such as Will and Deb Brinkley of the Burlington franchise are still going strong.

Happy Joe’s restaurants marked the 50th on Nov. 16.

The Brinkleys have owned the Burlington store for 26 years after buying it from Bob Jones. He bought it from the original owners, Gary and Marjean Smith. It started on Division Street, but it’s now at 1011 Lawrence St.

The Brinkleys get big help from the manager — or “coach” as the franchise calls them — Stephanie Bailey, who has plaques on the wall marking the many awards she has received for sales and social media presence.

The employee who has been there the longest preceded the Brinkleys. Jim Faegol has been a dough maker since the original franchise owner in the late 1970s.

The Brinkleys’ entry into the food business was with burgers and fries.

“My husband and I started (working) at McDonald’s when we were teenagers,” Deb Brinkley said. They eventually got into management positions. But when they wanted to strike out on their own, they knew McDonald’s would be too expensive to get into.

Happy Joe’s turned out to be a good fit.

“Our goal as young people was to buy a franchise and run our own restaurant as franchisees,” said Brinkley, “and living in the Quad Cities at the time where Happy Joe’s started made that an obvious choice.”

Eventually, the Brinkleys moved the store to the restaurant complex south of town on Roosevelt Avenue. The lease was up, and they wanted a building they could own. Parking was also limited.

The Brinkleys eat at other pizza places and restaurants, of course, so what puts their store above others?

“We have some really great recipes for pizza,” Brinkley said. “They have us set up with some pretty high-end products, so we can make a premium pizza.”

She said the taco pizza is their best seller, “just because it’s our signature pizza. Sausage and pepperoni, the traditional types, are the next best sellers.”

Another plus is that Happy Joe’s isn’t just about pizza.

“I like the combination that we can do a lot of different things,” Brinkley said. “We have birthday parties and game room, as well as just doing the usual pickup and delivery.”

Pizza restaurants usually have carry-out and delivery, but Brinkley that’s become more common, and that came into play before COVID-related shutdowns forced people into that option.

“Half of the people who order for carryout or delivery, do so online as opposed to calling on the phone,” Brinkley said.

Above: Happy Joe’s employee Jason Easley offers prize suggestions as these sisters decide how to spend the tickets they earned from playing games at the local pizza restaurant. From the left are Emmerson, Hadley, and Brynn Boyle from Florida. They and their parents, Brandon and Jessica Boyle, came from Eglin Air Force Base to visit family in Iowa. Photo/Chris Faulkner