LIMA — In the past 40 years, Lima’s restaurant business has come full circle, and John Heaphy has watched it happen.
Heaphy, owner of Happy Daz restaurants, has watched the business change from mostly locally owned restaurants when he entered the business 40 years ago to more chain restaurants and then back to more locally owned now.
“There’s now a resurging interest in locally owned restaurants,” he said, and he thinks it’ll stay that way. “I wish there were more young, upcoming restaurant owners in town.”
Which Heaphy was himself not so many years ago.
Heaphy spoke at the Lima Noon Optimist Club on Wednesday, telling his life story and of his work in the local restaurant business, which started when he was 16.
He started out working for other restaurateurs and then became one himself for a few years, until he went bankrupt in his early 20s.
“I was great at making people happy … but I had no real business training, no real financial training,” he said.
What he learned from his early years in the business is that “life is all about impressing people … especially when you’re young,” he said.
At 21, he started a cafe in Lima and told the Optimists of how men years older than him used to come in, and he’d think, “Wow, maybe someday I can be involved like they are.”
Now, he is.
Heaphy didn’t let his early bankruptcy bring him down. He had a family and went to work for Gordon Food Service, where he met “some of the best restaurant operators I could ever meet.”
“It really opened my eyes on how to conduct life and how to conduct business and how to conduct a lot of things,” he said.
The experience made him “get up and get at it again,” again pursuing the dream of being an entrepreneur he’s had since he was 16.
He bought Happy Daz in 1995, and today, his daughter works at one of his 11 restaurants in Findlay and his son is coming to join him as well. Still, it all comes back to Lima for Heaphy.
“I take a lot of pride in where we’re at but I really take a lot of pride in this town,” he said.