BETTENDORF, IOWA (September 29, 2022) — Brothers Dave and Doug Vandergist have been in the pizza and party business for over 25 years. The brothers began their Happy Joe’s journey at age sixteen, and today, Happy Joe’s CEO Tom Sacco describes the franchisees as “people who he can always count on.”

There is nothing truer to the American dream than a family-run business. According to the Family Business Alliance, there are 5.5 million family-owned businesses in the United States, which generate 57% of the nation's GDP and employ 63% of the US workforce. In fact, 75% of all new jobs are generated by family businesses.

In the restaurant world, family businesses are prevalent and contribute to greater quality control, improved customer relations, and an authentic feeling that is hard to find. In fact, a family-owned business tends to have leadership tenure that is four to five times longer than its counterparts, which leads to long-standing trust from customers and team members.

The Vandergist brothers recently sat down and discussed their remarkable journey:

What led you to Happy Joe’s?

Dave: In 1979, when I turned sixteen, I had a friend whose brother managed the Happy Joe’s on 16th Street in Moline, so I was able to work there for a couple of years and became assistant manager after just a year. A big influence for us was a friend and mentor named Dave Star, who talked to us about getting involved as franchisees. In 1997, we bought the Milan location, followed by the Coal Valley store in 1998, and then the Aledo store. Every one of my kids has put in hours at Happy Joe’s, and it’s been an amazing family affair.

Doug: Dave got me a job at Happy Joe’s when I was sixteen. I started in the kitchen and did deliveries. I worked my way up to assistant manager. After a few years of working at various places, I got back together with Happy Joe’s and Dave when we bought our initial franchise store.

What makes the Happy Joe’s franchise stand out from its competitors?

Doug: I’d say one thing that stands out for me is the innovative products we offer and the overall experience. We have a pizza grill, full bar and 23 TVs, and we recently added a golf simulator at one store and putt-putt at another.

Dave: The thing that stands out for me is the fact that we are still a 100% family-oriented place but provide adults with all the menu items and interactive experiences they need to enjoy themselves. We offer something for everyone.

What does it take to be successful at Happy Joe’s?

Doug: You must be willing to work alongside everybody, make it a fun atmosphere, and make it a place that you would want to work if you were looking for a job. We have people who have worked for us since 1988 and people who have just started. The most important and best way to keep people is to treat them right, treat them fairly, and make the atmosphere fun.

What’s your favorite thing about being a part of the Happy Joe’s family? Any favorite memories?

Dave: The culture is a huge part of it. Happy Joe’s is in the sweet spot of being a booming franchise concept with a mom-and-pop feel. It’s also nice hearing from people who worked for us fifteen to twenty years ago. It’s great to hear how fun it was for them to work at Happy Joe’s and how it’s been their favorite job.

Doug: One of my favorite memories from the last 25 years is when we held a birthday party for a child with special needs. It was incredible to see all the smiles and joy from the party. It assured me that Happy Joe’s was a truly special place.

To learn more about Happy Joe’s successful franchises, visit or follow Happy Joe’s on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. To learn more about Happy Joe’s franchise opportunities, e-mail Kat Davidson at, or call 678.485.8413.

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