When the cash register at Pancho’s Mexican Buffet began rejecting credit cards, the morning could easily have morphed into a blue Monday.
But co-franchisee Joe “Happy Joe” Seyadmorteza refused to let a malfunctioning machine ruin his mood.
“Lunch is on us,” he breezily told the customers, returning their credit cards. “Happy, happy, happy.”
“MO AND HAPPY JOE ARE BACK!” proclaim huge banners at the Mexican restaurant at Industrial Boulevard and Airport Freeway. The return of Joe and brother Mo (aka Flipper) means stellar service and such shenanigans as off-key singing and stunts with enchiladas, longtime Pancho’s customers say. They remember the brothers, who worked as waiters at the restaurant for nearly 20 years.
Mo and Joe, natives of Kuwait, left the Euless eatery two years ago for an Irving Pancho’s before company officials urged them to come back. Since they put up the banners, on May 17, sales have increased by more than 30 percent, Mo said.
Mo and Joe’s mojo is working.
Smiles, songs and service
Their notion of making the customer happy goes beyond prompt iced-tea refills, say Mo, 42, and Joe, 40, both of Richland Hills. “A lot of people have problems and want to have a little fun,” Joe said. “That’s what Mo and Happy Joe are about.
“People are the same, whether you’re rich, poor, white, black, Spanish, regardless of your religion, whether you’re wearing a tux or a T-shirt,” he said. “It doesn’t even matter whether you tip.”
Mo said: “Regardless of who you are, we will not leave you alone until you have a smile on your face. By the time you leave, you will be ...”
“Happy, happy, happy!” Joe said.
When a woman said the brothers needed to offer marshmallow sauce as well as honey for their fluffy sopaipillas, they stocked up.
When a regular extolled the virtues of Gummi Bears, Mo hustled to a nearby store and returned bearing bears.
When a customer strolled into Pancho’s before the lunch rush the other day, the brothers greeted him as if he were the prodigal son.
“The nice man is here!” they chorused. “Yea!” They clapped.
They sing a cappella. “We’re loud but not beautiful,” Mo said.
And then there’s the antic that earned Mo the nickname Flipper.
Years ago, an unfortunate encounter with a freezer door left him with a jammed thumb and torn ligaments in his left hand. Rather than hoping his cast would trigger sympathy tips, he honed a one-handed stunt with his right hand, flipping an enchilada-laden plate with nary a spill. These days, he is equally adept with his other hand.
“I tell customers, ‘Don’t try this at home, because your mother is going to get mad at you when you make a mess,’” Mo said.
Mo — short for Mohammad — was the first to leave Kuwait. He set out for Texas in 1985 to major in computer engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington.
“U.S. is No. 1,” he said.
Joe — born Yosof — followed a year later to major in business administration at the University of North Texas in Denton.
In 1987, Mo took a job at Pancho’s making sopaipillas, clearing tables, working the buffet line and waiting tables. He persuaded his brother to take a job there two years later.
They became American citizens and left college to rise through the ranks in food service.
Because of some corporate changes three years ago — for a time, the restaurants sold packaged instead of freshly made food — they departed. They later accepted an offer to take over the franchise in Irving, paying a percentage of that store’s profits to the Pancho’s corporation.
There were naysayers.
A former Pancho’s honcho called them “silly, dumb waiters” without the smarts to run a business, Mo said.
But the brothers, by now husbands and fathers, dug in.
They worked from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Irving restaurant, seven days a week — often sticking around until past midnight to plan business strategy with the help of customer-turned-friend Les Christiansen of Watauga, an accountant.
“We cooked. We cleaned. We were managers, busboys, whatever it took,” Mo said. “We like to learn everything. We don’t like to be at anybody’s mercy.”
But they were unable to work the magic in Irving that they had in Euless, perhaps in part because the restaurant had lower visibility, corporate officials said.
When Pancho’s bigwigs decided to close the Irving Pancho’s, they urged the brothers to take over the Euless franchise. Former customers said they missed the brothers and their antics, and Mo and Joe were nostalgic about their Euless days, too.
“To come here from somewhere else and do this — we are living the American dream,” Joe said.
Anna Sinclair, who teaches seventh-grade language arts at Creekview Middle School in Saginaw, had a job at Pancho’s years ago, during the brothers’ first round. When she heard they were back, she began working at Pancho’s part time.
“It’s nice to have back the family,” she said.
Fernando Nogueira, operations director for 11 Pancho’s restaurants in Texas and Louisiana, said the brothers “are, in one word, phenomenal.
“Business is booming in Euless. If I could have them at all the restaurants, I’d be rich.”
From the view of those in the buffet line, the brothers are “awesome,” said longtime Mo-Joe fan Judy Anders, 39, of Richland Hills as she, her mother and other relatives chowed down recently. “They give great service, and they cut up.”
Anders’ brother-in-law Russ Felski, in town from Buffalo, N.Y., looked up from his plate.
“I came all the way from New York to see them,” he said.
“No,” Felski said, returning to his enchiladas.
Come to Pancho’s when Joe is not there, and you’ll have a great time, the brothers say. Come when Mo has the day off, and you will still have a blast, they say.
But two brothers are better than one.
“We complete each other,” Mo said.
(Brotherly love aside, each claims to be his mother’s favorite.)
Rarely, there is a blip on their happy-happy screen. On a recent day, during the lunch rush, the deep-fried sopaipillas refused to rise to their accustomed heights. Joe kicked a wall, an employee confided.
But the next batch was better. Joe’s spirits soared as speedily as his brother flips enchiladas.
“Happy days are back,” he said. “Happy, happy, happy.”