The Change Makers Spotlight is a weekly blog highlighting some of the best non-profits, businesses and individuals working to make the world a better place.
When 27-year-old Mason Wartman quit his job on Wall Street to open a pizzeria in his hometown of Philadelphia he had no idea how many lives he would be helping in the process. Rosa's Fresh Pizza started a pay-it-forward program where customers can pre-purchase a slice of pizza for those who can not afford a slice themselves. When customers pre-pay $1 for a slice they get a Post-it note to write a message on, then stick it to the message wall. A person in need takes one of the Post-it notes and turns it in for a fresh slice of pizza. During the last eleven months Rosa's has given away more than 11,000 slices of pizza and has expanded to selling t-shirts and sweatshirts to support the neighborhood homeless population.
1. Describe Rosa’s Fresh Pizza and what makes it different than other pizza shops.
Rosa's sells pizza by the slice for just $1.00, which on its own makes it unique among Philadelphia restaurants, but we also have an innovative "pay-it-forward" program where our customers can pre-purchase slices of pizza for people in need, many of them homeless. At this point, we feed about 100 homeless people every day.
2. What were you doing before opening Rosa’s Pizza? Did you always want to help other people?
Before Rosa's, I worked on Wall Street doing finance related work. Like many people, I wanted to do something interesting and impactful, but I never envisioned the work the Rosa's does today.
3. Did you start your business with the idea you wanted to help feed the homeless? If so, why? If not, when did it come to you?
I knew we would feed many homeless people because at just $1 per slice, many of them could afford our food. That appealed to me as I started Rosa's. The pay-it-forward program only came later when a customer offered to pre-purchase a slice for a homeless person who came in short.
4. What are the biggest challenges for running Rosa’s Pizza?
The biggest challenge with Rosa's is making it run smoothly when I am not there. Like any business, it needs to have good, reliable people working there and standards that it upholds.
5. What has been the most rewarding aspect of running your business? The most surprising?
The most rewarding aspects of our work is when homeless people come in and they aren't homeless anymore. It's great to be a part of a positive transition in someone's life. It's also the most surprising. I never thought I'd be a part of stories like these when I started Rosa's.
6. What is one little thing people can do in their community to help the homeless? Learn about them. Everyone has a different story, different problems, different needs. When the community understands that, they stop assuming and start actively looking for solutions.
7. What piece of advice would you give someone who is passionate about starting some sort of social enterprise, but does not know where to start?
Treat it as a business first. Become good at just a few things and you will find yourself helping a lot people in no time.
For more information on Rosa's Pizza or to donate Click Here.