Rosa’s Fresh Pizza in Philadelphia has an unusual type of wallpaper: Neon Post-it notes.
Each sticky slip represents a customer who gave an extra dollar so that a homeless person could eat a slice.
The pay-it-forward menu began nine months ago, owner Mason Wartman tells NPR, when someone asked if he could buy something extra for the homeless. “I said ‘Sure.’ I took his dollar and ran out and got some Post-it notes and put one up to signify that a slice was purchased,” Wartman explains.
While lots of take-out restaurants have boxes near the register asking for loose change (a simple reminder of how many people are hungry), this pizzeria took it further, displaying the Post-its side-by-side with letters of thanks from grateful recipients — proving just how much an extra buck can impact someone in need of a meal.
Word of free cheesy, thin-crust pizza has spread, and about 30 to 40 homeless people drop by Rosa’s every day. Luckily, generous customers stop by in huge numbers, too. So far, the shop’s clientele has bought more than 8,400 slices for their neighbors living on the street.
“I just want to thank everyone that donated to Rosa’s,” one message taped on the wall says in bright red marker, “it gave me a place to eat everyday and the opportunity to get back on my feet. I start a new job tomorrow!”
On a paper plate, a homeless veteran writes, “God bless you. Because of you I ate off this plate, the only thing I ate all day.”
Wartman, 27, formerly worked as an equity research on Wall Street. After falling in love with $1-a-slice pizza in New York City, he brought the cheap and simple model back to his hometown and named Rosa’s Fresh Pizza (which he opened in December 2013) after his mother. Even with his knack for business, Wartman’s customers were buying so many free meals for the homeless that he had to abandon the Post-it system once it exceeded 500 slices. Now, he keeps tabs at the register.
Giving away food wasn’t enough for Wartman. Since last November, he’s been selling sweatshirts and donating one to a homeless person for each purchase. The fuzzy garment has his restaurant’s logo emblazoned on the outside and, inside, contains a schedule and a directory for local soup kitchens and homeless shelters. On “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” this week, he challenged national chains like Chipotle to follow suit.
Why do he and his customers do it? “They’re just really nice people, you know? Sometimes homeless people buy them for other homeless people,” Wartman says. “This is a super-easy way, a super-efficient way and a super-transparent way to help the homeless.”
This must be why they call Philadelphia the City of Brotherly Love.