A slice of pizza goes a long way in Philadelphia these days. Popular eatery Rosa’s Fresh Pizza has been modeling a pizza-centric “pay-it-forward” initiative since early 2015, and since the internet caught on, it’s become a rip-roaring success.
Rosa’s is now famous for it.
The pizzeria invites their customers to pre-purchase one dollar slices of pizza for homeless customers, and since the very beginning, people have been more than happy to contribute. A customer pays a dollar and sticks a Post-It (message optional) to the wall. A homeless patron visiting Rosa’s can then pick a Post-It and redeem it for a pre-paid slice of pizza.
It’s simple, and it’s changing lives.
“I know I can look forward to 11 o’clock when I know I can get some fresh, hot pizza,” said one patron. “I feel welcome,” another contributed. “I feel like, you know, almost like I bought the slice but I know I didn’t.” The free slices provide not only the guarantee of at least one hot, fresh meal per day, but also a sense of dignity for homeless patrons.
Upworthy interviewed Rosa’s owner, Mason Wartman, soon after the project took off. The video amassed over 35 million views on Facebook, and the story was shared over 800,000 times.
Wartman emailed Upworthy with a four-month update after the interview: “It’s been a CRAZY past couple months,” he wrote, “but the business is both making more money and helping WAY more people than ever before.” The eatery’s website claims that Rosa’s is now providing 50 to 100 pizza slices for homeless patrons every single day, which represents 10 percent of Rosa’s overall business. That’s huge.
Another upshot to the massive increase in business and donations is that Wartman needed to hire more employees. Where did he go to find the manpower? Philadelphia isn’t known as the city of brotherly love for nothing: Wartman approached agencies that help homeless people seek gainful employment.
As Rosa’s pay-it-forward project gained momentum and the eatery’s fame grew exponentially, they started printing branded apparel featuring artwork by homeless artists. What better way to get an ethos more visibility than to print it on a T-shirt?
As a wonderful addendum, the profits go straight back into pre-paid pizza slices.
Before opening the pizza shop, Wartman worked a desk job on Wall Street. It was “pretty regular stuff,” he said. After witnessing the success of the dollar pizza places in New York, he decided to give small business ownership a shot. Since 2013, Rosa’s has built an empire on the principle of kindness, and it’s surely a story worth sharing.
“This job compared to Wall Street is a lot more work. But it’s more fun, and it’s definitely more rewarding,” Wartman told Ellen DeGeneres in 2016 (yes, that’s right—Rosa’s made it on to Ellen’s show!).
The pay-it-forward scheme shows no sign of losing speed, but does the pizza match the politics? “I try to donate at least five dollars a week … it’s just a great thing. And the pizza is good,” said one patron, a woman who has both contributed to and benefited from the project.
“I’m from New York,” she added, “so you know I know what pizza is.”