Stephanie Bailey is proud of her Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream store and its team members — so proud she sees them as her family.
“I’m married with two kids, 26 and 17, and about 40 here at the store,” Bailey said, describing herself.
That familial environment helps Bailey with the team’s attitude, even amid a crowd of teenagers who work at the restaurant as a temporary job.
“After 26 years, I've had so many [teenagers] that grow up and spread their wings and move away, but they come back and see me,” she said. “I've had families where all the siblings have worked for me, it's like their rite of passage to come here. But I just think that the team that you grow and that you work with every day, that's what makes me exceptional, because they build me up and I build them up.”
But it’s her attitude that seals the deal; Bailey said she always strives to “live on the positive side of life.” That positive attitude propels her forward to be “the Happy Joe’s lady,” as she’s known about town — and she’s OK with that. “It’s all about creating the moment for the customer,” she said.
One story illustrating her happiness and kindness is the story of an old customer named Kevin. An accident left Kevin paralyzed and with brain damage, and he was confined to a wheelchair. Bailey met Kevin when she was a delivery driver for Happy Joe’s back in the ’90s.
Kevin would always order a little Joe — the chain’s smallest pizza — a taco, and a Mountain Dew. When Bailey would return after delivering to Kevin, her manager would ask, “What took so long?”
She was delivering the pizza directly to Kevin’s unit in the nursing home, but not just delivering the pizza; she was also opening the straw for him and putting it into the soda and opening his sauce packets.
Bailey moved up from her role as a delivery driver quickly, but she never forgot about Kevin. When she was promoted to assistant manager, she made sure every delivery driver knew how to go into Kevin’s unit and open his sauce packets and straws.
Eventually, Bailey was able to convince Kevin’s parents to bring him into the store to make a pizza himself. Every birthday after that he would come into the store. Bailey and the staff became friends with Kevin, calling each other and exchanging cards.
Two years ago, Kevin passed away from late-stage bone cancer, but before he passed, he was able to give away 100 $5 Happy Joe’s gift cards to residents of his nursing home, a parting gift from Bailey who knew he loved to give to others.
To memorialize Kevin, Bailey put his photo on the wall of the restaurant.
“I've been doing this for over 45 years, and I think she's only the second person in my career that's ever had this much of a gift,” said CEO Tom Sacco.
It’s not just Kevin. Bailey makes an impact on all customers, including the younger ones.
“It's just second nature to bond with somebody to get to know somebody,” Bailey said. “I had a little girl come up to me when she was five and tell me that she wanted to work here. You get that a lot … [but] at 14, here she comes. Sometimes you don't realize you're making the bond, but you are.”
Sacco likens Bailey to the Michael Jordan of Happy Joe's.
“Michael Jordan didn't know he was special, but he had a gift,” he said. “But I think that's how the Lord blesses us. And I think Stephanie was given a gift that rises her up so she can do the things that she does, that no one else does.”
Contact Holly Petre at [email protected]