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Happy Joe's sells majority stake in company
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Happy Joe's sells majority stake in company

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BETTENDORF — After 45 years as a family-owned business, Happy Joe's Pizza & Ice Cream Parlors, Inc. has sold a majority stake in the company in a partnership deal with Dynamic Restaurant Holdings (DRH), effective Oct. 24.

The deal will allow the pizza restaurant chain to grow and open more locations nationally, said director of advertising and marketing Kristel Whitty-Ersan. 

"We've been fortunate enough to be chosen for investors to partner with us so we can grow the company," she said. "It's a wonderful group with a focus on pizza. They want Happy Joe's to be the flagship (business), and they want to look for other pizza chains elsewhere in the country and roll them into a company that would have the umbrella of DRH.

"We're really excited they've chosen Happy Joe's to work with."

Ms. Whitty-Ersan made the announcement in a news conference Thursday with her father and founder, Joe Whitty, president Larry Whitty, and DRH CEO James Smith at Happy Joe's headquarters, 2705 Happy Joe Drive,  Bettendorf. 

Mr. Smith will head the company with CFO Jim Hayes, and include a financial partner, AAVIN Equity Advisers, a private investment group based in Cedar Rapids. Mr. Hayes was not present Thursday. 

Happy Joe's has 50 restaurants, with locations in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Arizona. While the company has been partially sold, Larry Whitty said he prefers to call it a rollup or merger. 

"(Mr. Smith's) company has got the majority share of the company. But it truly is a partnership," Larry Whitty said. "This is a rollup strategy in the finance world, and we're just absolutely excited about it. We spoke to all of our team members yesterday and spoke to all of our franchisees today. They all seem to be very excited about this as well."

Acknowledging Mr. Smith as "our CEO," Ms. Whitty-Ersan said Happy Joe's will benefit from his expertise in their effort to grow the business.

The group declined to name the percentage of ownership stake, saying it was confidential. 

"It is a rollup; it's an opportunity for us to go to that next level," Mr. Smith said. "Change is part of the plan; I wouldn't say nothing's going to change because things will change. We've tried to assure our team members they are secure and should feel comfortable showing up to work tomorrow. The vision of Happy Joe's is phenomenal."

Joe Whitty said DRH will keep the Bettendorf headquarters and support center intact, along with its employees. 

"We've got hard-working people. They're going to find out they've never seen a better crew in the world," he said. "(DRH) wanted to know about the taco pizza and I said, 'that's the only way you're going to get the recipe.'

"It's going to be fun. I get to sit back and take more credit as everyone else does the work. As long as I've got this hat on, I get to take the credit," Joe Whitty laughed, motioning to his trademark straw hat. "I started with little money and a lot of prayers."

Ms. Whitty Ersan said the family was relieved when the opportunity to merge with DRH came about. 

"We've had a lot of hopes and dreams," she said. "We thought, finally, we can take it where we really want it to go, which is harder to do in a smaller family business. You really do need to bring some outside expertise in and partner if you want to make it happen. This was great timing.

"We wouldn't be here without the patronage and loyal fans we have. I think the Quad-Cities should be proud. It's a homegrown deal," Ms. Whitty-Ersan said. "It's our 45th anniversary this year, my dad just had his 80th birthday, the stars are aligning.

"The whole idea is to be bigger, better, stronger. We want to improve in every area."

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