After leaving his Wall Street career, 27-year-old Mason Wartman moved back to his hometown of Philadelphia to open a dollar pizza joint. During his time in Manhattan, he had seen similar establishments succeed, so he wanted to start one in his hometown. Rosa’s Fresh Pizza, named for Wartman’s mother, opened in late 2013.
Wartman went to work establishing his business and selling $1 pizza slices. One day, a customer asked if he could pre-purchase a slice of pizza for someone who was homeless or otherwise down on his luck. Wartman thought it was a great idea and quickly agreed. The idea caught on and soon other customers began pre-purchasing slices for the needy.
Wartman devised a system using colorful Post-It notes to let people know when a free slice was available. And the notes weren’t simply plain pieces of paper. Each person who purchased a slice for someone else was able to customize a Post-It and add it to the wall.
The colorful notes now plaster the walls of the restaurant, bearing inspirational and hopeful messages. The messages are sweet, endearing, and encouraging, including messages such as “Keep faith alive,” and “Best pizza on earth! Enjoy!” along with each free slice.
A $10,000 Donation From Ellen
Of course, such a heartwarming idea couldn’t stay quiet for long. Soon, Ellen DeGeneres caught wind of the story and promoted Rosa’s and its pizza-sharing idea on her show. She also donated $10,000 to provide 10,000 slices of pizza for people who were down on their luck.
That $10,000 worth of pizza not only fills 10,000 grumbling stomachs, it also boosts Wartman’s business. It generates revenue from the 10,000 slices of pizza, as well as from the goodwill the concept generates.
What’s not to love about an idea that lets homeless and hungry people enjoy a delicious slice of pizza while donors feel good about their anonymous acts of goodwill? People who aren’t in Philly can also go online and donate to the cause, purchasing slices of pizza for people who wander into Rosa’s hungry.
Since he appeared on Ellen, Wartman’s business has done remarkably well, doubling or tripling in business, according to CNN.
A Tradition Born in Naples
The idea to buy your own and then one for the less fortunate wasn’t born in Philadelphia. A similar tradition began in Naples, Italy over 100 years ago.
The “caffe sospeso” or “suspended coffee” tradition was a way for people to help out fellow coffee-drinkers who may have been down on their luck. In modern times, the tradition has been revived in Europe, and it’s rapidly spreading to many other locations. France has “cafe en attente” or “waiting coffee,” which is essentially the same thing.
This charitable and anonymous act even has a website devoted to finding places where you can practice it. Coffee Sharing lists 195 places in 19 countries where you can participate in this tradition, including places where you can buy more than a coffee to share — some establishments allow you to purchase a sandwich or a whole meal that will be available for anyone who asks.
That’s the other part of this tradition: You don’t have to prove a thing. No one needs to know if you’re down on your luck, and you can simply ask the cashier if they have anything “suspended” and they will let you know if anyone has prepaid for an item.
Helping a Neighbor Can Also Help Your Wallet
There’s a lesson here as a business owner: When your business has a great idea to help people out, be sure to share it with others. Local and national news stations love warm and fuzzy stories to balance out all the trouble and mayhem in the world. If your business is doing something to help the community, pitch a story to your local media. Wartman may have enjoyed that $10,000 donation from Ellen, but the publicity he received from his company’s good deeds was an even larger boost to his business.
Not only will publicity help your business, but it will give you the chance to help more people in the future. When it’s as simple as buying an extra slice of pizza, what’s not to love about the idea?
Your Turn: Would you buy one of these “suspended” items for someone in need? If you run a business, how you could incorporate this tradition of giving into your model?
Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.