I’ve been with some really wonderful restaurant chains over my career. Red Robin in the early days. BJ’s Restaurants & Brewhouse. I had a taste of what some spectacular concepts were doing. They were novel in their time. And I can tell you, Happy Joe’s is a brand that expands not just on the food segment, but it touches the hearts and souls of people who dine with it. That’s a rare commodity in today’s restaurant industry.

Happy Joe’s hero is the food. Our pizzas are very unique and very high quality. So the product itself would weather the test of time anywhere in the country, and we’ve been around 49 years for a reason. We’ve known the core competency that we have, which is an outstanding pizza product that would do well against our competition anywhere in the U.S.A.

READ MORE: Happy Joe’s is Ready for its National Breakthrough

But the fairy dust—that’s what makes Happy Joe’s different. To do the things that we do, across all the communities that we’re in, it isn’t because we had one restaurant that got lucky. It isn’t because we had one franchisee that had a servant’s heart. The brand has been designed and has evolved over time to create emotional connections with families, particularly with the children in the family.

We serve pizza like hundreds of thousands of other restaurants in this country do. Yet it’s different. We have a train that goes around the restaurant. A large-size train that kids enjoy. When there’s a birthday we’ve got this big horn that we come out honking. When the kids leave, they feel special. 

I would ask you, think to yourself, what is the one restaurant company that you want to take your kids to and have that be part of their life? Part of their magical memories? I can’t tell you a one. Most restaurants, you don’t make an emotional connection with. It’s functional. It might be practical. It may be value driven. It could be convenience driven. But very rarely, is it emotionally driven.

That’s the legacy of Happy Joe’s that we’re going to bring to America. 

What was your first job? 

My first job was working with my Grandfather (Tony Sacco), in his restaurant kitchen prepping food in the morning and washing dishes at lunch. My first paid job was as a dishwasher at the Skylon Tower up in the revolving dining room kitchen.

What’s your first experience with restaurant franchising?

My first experience with restaurant franchising was with Red Robin.

What’s your favorite menu item at Happy Joe’s?

It’s our Super Max Pizza. It combines my two favorite foods, cheeseburgers and pizza. It’s a Cheeseburger Pizza with pickle chips!

What’s your favorite cuisine aside from Pizza?

Other than the two items I just mentioned above, I really enjoy Chinese food.

Who inspires you as a leader?

My guests inspire me as a leader because there is no better gratification for all the hard work, long hours, weekends away from your family, than a smile on a child’s face, or a “thank you” from young family, or a handshake from a regular, when they are expressing how much they’ve enjoyed and appreciated dining with you. I live for those moments, as random and as rare as they may be, those smiles inspire me beyond words.

What’s the best piece of advice that other restaurant executives should hear?

What we do is special, but we don’t cure cancer. Remember the original reason you got into this business and what keeps you in this business. When your passion to serve others and create smiles is no longer your daily driving force, get out. Let those of us that love this industry keep doing what we are passionate about doing serving others and creating smiles.

What are some of your interests outside of work?

My five grandchildren are my primary interests now, and when time permits, traveling with my wife of 44 years to our home away from home in Cabo San Lucas.

Emerging Concepts, Fast Casual, Start to Finish: What Inspires Execs, Story, Happy Joe's Pizza & Ice Cream Parlor