Arts & Entertainment

Feeding the homeless, one slice at a time

Rosa’s Fresh Pizza has been gaining acclaim for its customers who ‘pay it forward.’

After quitting his job on Wall Street, Mason Wartman opened a $1 pizza shop where customers started to “pay it forward” by buying a slice for the homeless. | Jenny Kerrigan TTN

The walls of Rosa’s Fresh Pizza on South 11th Street are covered with teal, bright pink, purple and orange Post-it notes that read “Eat well” and “Be creative, inspire the world and eat the pain away.”

One Post-it note reads, “I’ve been homeless in Philly for six years, and I am so happy to get to see people coming together and really making a difference in the community. Rosa’s is a great start to changing the way homeless people are treated.”

Those Post-it notes were written by customers who are “paying it forward” at the South Philly pizza shop.

At the end of March 2014, shop owner Mason Wartman had his first customer write an encouraging message. After the customer bought a dollar slice, they left a dollar for the next person in need at the counter.

The random act of kindness started a chain reaction.

In 11 months, the 27-year-old Philly native changed his neighborhood by giving away more than 9,000 slices of pizza.

Wartman said he never expected for his business to get so much attention.

“I just saw the success of the dollar pizza stores in New York,” said Wartman. “I wanted to own my own business and I thought this would be a good one to own.”

The interaction with customers never gets old for Wartman and inspires him to keep doing what he does.

“It’s memorable when they say that they are really young,” Wartman said. “It’s depressing because I’m young – it’s like seeing myself in an alternate universe. That will never stop bothering me. But it’s cool when they come in and start paying for their pizza, because they got a job.”

Originally, Wartman worked on Wall Street managing money in stocks. Then, at the age of 25, he decided to quit his job to come back home and open Rosa’s. Wartman said the fast pace of his former New York City career doesn’t quite compare to pizza making.

“My job in New York was just numbers, and I realized now I am pretty good at that,” Wartman said.

“This job has a lot more soft and qualitative skills, which I have had to learn on the job. It’s easier for me to pick something up involving more math than it is for me to manage people and organized schedules. I went from an employee to an employer.”

But there is no slowing down for Wartman and his business, seeing a double in sales since being on Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show on Jan. 13. DeGeneres gave the Rosa’s Fresh Pizza owner a $10,000 check from Shutterfly, which Wartman said he would put toward more slices.

Long time customers of Rosa’s were excited to see Wartman gaining national attention. Philadelphia resident Matt Pagnotti said he recognized Wartman and the pizza shop in a post his out-of-state friends shared on Facebook.

“I thought it was really cool, I think it’s good it’s getting more notoriety,” Pagnotti said. “There definitely weren’t this many people before [being on the show], on a late Thursday night when we usually came here.”

For first time customer Jesica Sarmiento, the pizza experience was unlike others in the area.

“My husband and I were bored, and I said, ‘Let’s go eat some pizza,’” Sarmiento said. “I have seen this place many times before and noticed the many colorful papers on the    walls. Now knowing they help the homeless, I would have come a lot sooner.”

Wartman said he hopes one day to have more than one location for Rosa’s Fresh Pizza, putting no limit on the number of slices of pizza given to people in need.

“When people ask, ‘Are you going to have a celebration for the 10,000 slice given away?’ I say, ‘No,’” Wartman said. “People will still be hungry. So I’m going to keep making pizza.”

Kate Reilly can be reached at kate.reilly@temple.edu. 

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