This article is part of our Cocktail Chatter series, where we dive into the wild, weird, and wondrous corners of history to share over a cocktail and impress your friends.

While some pizza joints start small and later expand into nationwide chains — as was the case with Domino’s, Little Caesars, and Papa John’s — other operations remain most popular in their home regions. Take Iowa’s Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream, for example. Founded in Bettendorf in 1972 by Lawrence Joseph “Happy Joe” Whitty, the shop made a name for itself as a family-friendly, fun-first establishment serving up unique selections like the Taco Joe (which the chain claims to be the first-ever taco pizza) along with breakfast and dessert pizzas.

Since then, Happy Joe’s has expanded with approximately 40 locations scattered across Iowa, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, and Wisconsin. And despite its limited domestic presence, Happy Joe’s somehow managed to cross the Atlantic and set up shop with a whopping six locations in Egypt. Yes, as in Africa.

Get the latest in beer, wine, and cocktail culture sent straight to your inbox.

In the early 1980s, Mohamed Magdy El Batran and his two uncles opened the first Egyptian franchise location of Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream, which they operated out of a boat-shaped restaurant on the Nile River. The pizza shop was a near-instant success, and over the course of the next two decades, El Batran and company opened seven restaurants in the country. Despite the success, the trio had only signed a 20-year franchising agreement with Happy Joe’s, and all Egyptian locations were shuttered by the early 2000s after the family chose not to renew the agreement.

Despite the Egyptian locations’ closures, the venture remained in the hearts and minds of the El Batran family, especially its younger members. Years later, when Mohammed’s son, Ahmed El Batran, relocated to the U.S. to study at the University of Michigan, he became reacquainted with the pizza he loved as a child as he traveled throughout the region. And when he returned to his home country, he arrived with plans to revive the chain on Egyptian soil.

In September 2021, Happy Joe’s CEO and president, Tom Sacco, announced an ambitious plan to expand the chain to the Middle East and North Africa, with efforts led by Ahmed. As a part of the plan, Happy Joe’s plans to open approximately 25 locations across the region over the course of the next decade. Just 10 months after the announcementt, Ahmed, his father, and his sister Zeina reopened the first Egyptian franchise in Heliopolis, a suburb of Cairo. In summer 2023, they opened a second location on the Sodic Strip, a popular shopping area in Giza. Now, there are six outposts operating within Egypt.

The chain appears to be succeeding just as it had in the ‘80s, with newspaper River Cities’ Reader reporting in July 2023 that the Sodic location outperformed the chain’s U.S. stores by 300 percent on comparable orders during a one-week period. Looking forward, the El Batrain family plans to develop several more restaurants in Egypt before working with sub-franchisees to open outposts in Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Dubai, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and more.

Perhaps there will one day be more locations of Happy Joe’s overseas than there are in the U.S. — only time will tell.

*Image retrieved from Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream