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Happy Joe's founder announces plans to replace burned down restaurant
Muscatine business woman Betty Brewer celebrates her 88th birthday with long time friend and business associate Joe Whitty, founder and owner of the Happy Joe’s Pizza and Ice Cream restaurant chain. Brewer and her husband, the late Max Brewer, established the first Happy Joe’s franchise restaurant. Cynthia Beaudette/Muscatine Journal

MUSCATINE, Iowa — What began as a casual dinner became a lifelong partnership for Muscatine businesswoman Betty Brewer and Davenport entrepreneur Joe Whitty.

Whitty came to Muscatine Friday to celebrate Brewer’s 88th birthday and thank her for her friendship. 

 He also helped announce plans to begin construction of a new Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream in the 200 block of Lake Park Boulevard, where Brewer’s old restaurant burned down in August 2008.

 Whitty recalled when Betty and her husband Max Brewer began coming to his first Happy Joe’s restaurant in Davenport shortly after he opened it in 1972.

The Brewers asked Whitty if he wanted to branch out.

 After giving it some thought, Whitty opened his first franchise in 1973 on Lake Park Boulevard in Muscatine with the Brewers at the helm.

“Betty ran the restaurant the right way, and if you didn’t do the work, you were out of there,” Whitty said. “Some people didn’t want to work as hard as she wanted them to and some definitely did not clean as well as she did.”

But many of those who passed muster come back and visit Brewer, thanking her for her example.

“You feel so blessed, you bubble over,” said Brewer, who was accompanied to her birthday party by June Davis, a good friend and former employee.

In the early years, Whitty said, Brewer would call and ask how to improve the pizza dough.

“Then, one day she called and said, ‘I don’t know where I can invest $100,000,” he said. “We went from dough to $100,000.”

In 1983, Brewer opened the city’s Southend Happy Joe’s at 927 Grandview Ave.

“I grew up in Muscatine and I had friends on the north side and the Southend,” Brewer said. “I wanted to take care of all of them.”

Good friendsWhitty, 72, said he and Brewer have always been there for one another.

“She was the first one to call when my wife died,” said Whitty. “And when Max died, in 1978, I spent a lot of time with her.”

Whitty’s first wife, Sandy, died in 1974. His second wife, Nancy, died in June.

“The only woman in my life now is Betty,” said Whitty fondly.

Whitty said he values Brewer’s loyalty and honesty.

“I’ve never lost any sleep thinking about what Betty Brewer might do,” he said.

Making more memories

Whitty brought a symbolic gift to Brewer’s party: an Isabelle Bloom sculpture of two children embracing.

“Do you have a story to tell me,” Brewer asked Whitty after admiring the gift.

Whitty told Brewer about a veterinarian who charged a woman $150 after he had a Labrador retriever puppy and a cat briefly inspect her dead parakeet to verify its demise.

When the woman objected, the veterinarian explained the bill was for Lab fees and a cat scan.

“I thought that was cute,” said Whitty as Brewer laughed.

The party was a welcome bright spot for Brewer, whose daughter, Della Ricklefs of Muscatine, died in June at age 66.

Her other daughter, Marjean Smith, 66, lives in Arizona.

Brewer’s grandaughters, Natalie Bartenhagen and Valery Smith also live in Arizona as does her great grandson, Hunter Miskey.

A new beginningBrewer said she’s received numerous phone calls from people who want her to bring back the north-side restaurant, and construction on the new restaurant should be underway by this fall.

Whitty’s son, Larry Whitty, president of Happy Joe’s, said bids will go out on the new building next week, and it could be completed by the end of 2009.

Final plans for the restaurant won’t be finished until late next week and were not available Friday.

“This is for Betty,” said Joe Whitty, referring to rebuilding the restaurant.  “And it’s going to be a good store.”

Whitty’s daughter, Kristel Ersan, advertising and marketing director for  Happy Joe’s, said the Muscatine restaurant will debut the company’s newest interior design plan which includes a community-based Memory Wall.

Photos submitted by Muscatine-area residents that illustrate happy memories of Happy Joe’s will be montaged on the Memory Wall along with memorable quotes from those pictured.

“It will look modern,” Joe Whitty said. “But it will be a good, old-fashioned operation inside.”

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