January 14, 2015 / 11:46 PM / 4 years ago

Philadelphia pizza shop clients pay it forward, buy slices for homeless

PHILADELPHIA, Jan 14 (Reuters) - When Mason Wartman left his Wall Street job to open a pizza shop in Philadelphia just over a year ago, his goal was simple: sell slices for $1 each and to do it well.

The 27-year-old entrepreneur has since expanded his mission.

His no-frills shop, Rosa’s Pizza in Philadelphia’s Center City neighborhood, has served 8,500 slices to homeless people after customers began paying Wartman to hand out the slices through so-called “pay it forward” acts of kindness.

“Paying it forward” is a longstanding idea that involves someone receiving an act of kindness and passing it onto another recipient. It was popularized by the 2000 film “Pay It Forward” based on a novel of the same title.

But at Rosa’s Pizza the concept is baked into the business. Homeless patrons, who number about 30 to 40 each day, can come in and claim a slice any time.

Located on an almost vacant block, the shop has always served many homeless people because of its low prices.

One day in March 2014, a customer asked to pay for a slice for the next homeless person who came in.

Wartman grabbed a sticky note to keep track. As word spread, the shop’s walls became covered in the notes.

They are still there - for symbolism at this point. Wartman keeps track of the handout slices, which account for about 10 percent of his business.

He said people who receive the slices have told him the generosity helps them avoid committing petty crime to get money for food.

“I knew it saved people money,” Wartman said. “I hadn’t considered that it stopped people from committing crime.”

Wartman, a business school graduate who worked in sell-side equities research for a small firm, didn’t know much about the pizza business when he opened. He used a chart provided by one of his food purveyors to figure out how to make dough.

His open-door approach to the homeless differs from some other businesses. In Wilmington, Delaware, a hotel that turned away homeless people who were offered rooms paid for by a Christian ministry recently had to reverse course after a social media outcry, local media reported.

Susan Mudambi, a professor of marketing at the Fox School of Business at Temple University, said there’s little risk that the business would get rejected by some customers because it served the homeless.

“Rosa’s Pizza did it right,” Mudambi said. (Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Eric Walsh)

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