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Sam Edwards, co-owner of Ann Arbor's Happy's Pizza

Happy's Back

This time with beer and seats

by Sally Mitani

From the May, 2016 issue

"We had a thousand people for Hash Bash, and we weren't even [officially] open yet," says Anthony Theodore, director of purchasing and operations for the Happy's Pizza chain. When the spring calendar delivered a pair of back-to-back crowds to campus, the newest Happy's, in the large space on the corner of Packard and State that most recently was R.U.B. BBQ, seized the opportunity and unlocked its doors earlier than planned. "We had five hundred for the spring football game the day before," Theodore adds. "We killed it."

Such success for a soft opening checkmates what otherwise are obvious questions about the location. The seemingly perfect yet oddly unsuccessful campus spot has in the last fifteen years also hosted Espresso Royale, Atlanta Bread Co., Artisan Bistro, and Packard Pub.

A Happy's at the corner of Main and Madison burned down in 2014. That franchise was owned by Mike Saffo, who still has a Detroit store. This one is owned by Sam Edward and Frank Oraha, who, Theodore says, "are very successful operators. They have some of our top stores in the system." (Edward was busily zipping around unpacking boxes and taking inventory, but came over long enough to say hi.) At Packard and State, they'll be conducting what Theodore calls "an experiment" in running a Happy's with a sit-down restaurant and bar.

Theodore explains that Happy Asker started Happy's in the mid-1990s on the east side of Detroit as "a city store, one of the few places set up to deliver anything and everything"--there are currently 200 items on the menu. "Pizza is half our business, but we smoke our own things in house," Theodore says. "I'd say after pizza, chicken is second, ribs and rib tips third, burgers fourth. It's high-quality food, value pricing, and geared toward student budgets."

Happy's hit a big bump in 2010, when federal agents raided its Farmington Hills headquarters. Asker was convicted of tax fraud, and four others pled guilty. But Theodore says a new

...continued below...

executive team took over, and the company is again on a roll--he's overseen the opening of four stores in five months. The Flint franchise, opening in mid-April, will make sixty-nine.

Delivery, which Theodore estimates will be 70 percent of this Happy's business, is being outsourced to the online service Zoomer. "It's like Uber, except for food delivery. This is our third test store using Zoomer," and nailing down the details in the deal was the kind of thing Theodore was in Ann Arbor to solve. "I guess if we're charging a $3 delivery fee, we don't need to have a minimum delivery," Theodore calls out to Edward, then shrugs, murmuring thoughtfully to himself: "I guess if someone wants to pay a $3 delivery for a $2 pop ... who would do that, right? Well, maybe I'd do that, if I was stuck at home and my kids were screaming, but who around here would do that?" More likely, they'll be getting their pop with a $14.99 fourteen-inch "everything pizza," or a $5.99 sandwich-and-fries lunch special.

Happy's Pizza, 640 Packard, 747-6666. Sun.-Thurs. 10 a.m.-midnight, Fri. & Sat. 10 a.m.-1 a.m.     (end of article)

[Originally published in May, 2016.]


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