One day, a customer walked into Rosa’s Fresh Pizza in Philadelphia and asked if he could purchase a slice of pizza for a homeless person. Owner Mason Wartman wrote a receipt on a Post-It note and a pay-it-forward program began. To pay for pizza, homeless people simply peeled a Post-It note off the wall. After about one year, 11,000 slices of pizza have been given away and Rosa’s feeds 50 people every day.
Mason’s career began not in a kitchen, but on Wall Street, where he worked a job he’d enjoyed. Yet he’d always wanted to own his own business and noticed the proliferation of dollar slice pizza shops in Manhattan.
“I had always liked simple, elegant businesses and I thought the $1 slice shop concept could work back home in Philly,” he says.
He quit his job and moved back in with his parents while his pizza shop, named after his mom, was built. A few months after Rosa’s opened, the customer’s idea ignited a new way of doing business. The program flourished under Mason’s management.
“The outpouring of support has convinced me that humans are essentially good,” says Mason. “They want to help out and they are looking for a simple and easy way to better the world.”
As Post-It notes covered the walls of Rosa’s, Mason added new ways to help. He created sweatshirts that included a schedule for meals and computer classes printed on a tag inside. For every sweatshirt sold, he donates one.
“I hope our program provides homeless people with a consistent, reliable source of food. With some of those basic needs satisfied, homeless people can focus on more permanent needs and more durable improvements to their lives,” he says.
One customer wrote a note saying that since they had a place to eat every day, they were able to find a job.
“I now realize how temporary poverty can be and how permanent improvement can be had with just small and simple kindness,” says Mason.
Although Rosa’s is unique, Mason believes other businesses can also prioritize community development and hopes that others take steps to work for positive change in their own jobs.
“To start, the most challenging part was in figuring out how to make great pizza. Now that we consistently make a great product, my focus is on growing the organization,” he says. “Our program to help the homeless is only possible because we make pizza extremely efficiently and charge a low price. If you become very good at something, you can change the world.”
Ultimately, Mason hopes to open more shops like Rosa’s. He says, “I’d like to own several restaurants of a similar nature: quick-service, affordable food with a pay-it-forward program.”
Rosa’s pay-it-forward system began with one customer, and a similar program could begin with you. Offer to pay for a homeless person at your favorite pizza joint or coffee shop; a few Starbucks and Panera Bread stores have already set up comparable programs. You can also support Rosa’s by donating slices of pizza or purchasing a sweatshirt online.