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Pay-It-Forward Restaurant Feeds Around 40 Homeless People Every Day

When 27-year-old business school graduate Mason Wartman quit his Wall Street job to sell $1 pizza slices, to many of his friends it seemed like the anticlimax of a brilliant career. But the man was simply trying to achieve a different sort of greatness with his no-frills pizza shop, Rosa’s Fresh Pizza, in Philadelphia’s Center City. In the past one year, the shop has served 8,500 free slices of pizza to homeless people, by harnessing the generosity of its patrons.

The shop operates by a ‘pay it forward’ system – customers who walk in to buy pizza can also sponsor a slice for a homeless person. In this way, about 30 to 40 homeless people are able to eat for free at Rosa’s every single day.

Even before the pay-it-forward scheme was implemented, Rosa’s Pizza, which is located on an almost vacant block, used to always give away free slices to hungry homeless people in the neighborhood. But one day last March, a customer asked if he could pay for the next homeless person who walked in. Wartman immediately agreed, and then put up a sticky note on the wall, just to keep track of the pre-paid slice.

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Before he knew it, word had spread and more and more patrons came in with similar offers. Soon, the walls were covered with over 500 sticky notes. Although he now keeps track of donations at the cash register, Wartman has left all the notes on the walls as a symbol of the warmth and generosity of his customers. “They’re just really nice people, you know,” he said. “Sometimes homeless people buy them for other homeless people.”

According to Wartman, a lot of people want to help out, but aren’t sure what to do. “This is a super-easy way, a super-efficient way and a super-transparent way to help the homeless.” he explained. The handout slices now account for 10 percent of his overall business.

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He said that the first customer who started it all was inspired by a similar practice in Italy, called ‘suspended coffee’, where customers purchase an extra cup of coffee for someone who can’t afford it.

Wartman also revealed that a lot of homeless people told him they were touched by the gesture, and that it has helped them avoid petty crime in order to get money for food. “I knew it saved people money,” he said. “I hadn’t considered that it stopped people from committing crime.”

 

Some of the recipients of the free slices of pizza have also left notes of appreciation on the wall. “I just want to thank everyone that donated to Rosa’s; it gave me a place to eat everyday and the opportunity to get back on my feet,” a note read. “I start a new job tomorrow!”

While most food-related businesses turn the homeless away from their premises, Wartman surely is doing something gutsy and different. According to Susan Mudambi, a professor of marketing at the Fox School of Business at Temple University, customers don’t usually reject businesses because they serve the homeless. “Rosa’s Pizza did it right,” she added.

via NPR, Pittsburgh Post Gazette