There are a lot of barriers and divisions in our society. The shop is serving as a place where those get broken down and two groups of people can learn about each other.
Can a single post-it note change the face of homelessness? At Mason Wartman’s Philadelphia pizza shop, an effort is underway to find out.
Mason was born and raised just outside of Philadelphia. He traveled north to Boston to study finance at Babson College and landed in New York City crunching numbers for an equity research firm on Wall Street. At first he enjoyed the work, but then a new desire took root.
“After two years on Wall Street, I wasn’t learning. I saw people above me struggling to advance, and I didn’t see much meaning in the work,” said Mason. “I started to get excited about trying to own my own business. I thought the business could make a difference, and have more meaning.”
So Mason returned to Philadelphia in 2013 and opened Rosa’s Pizza, modeled after pizza shops he had visited in New York City. He says the scariest part wasn’t the business side of things – it was making the pizza! He kept his menu offerings simple and still keeps his focus on constantly improving his product.
Mason quickly noticed one of his customer bases was the homeless community in his area of the city. One day a customer asked if he could pre-pay for a slice a pizza to be paid forward to a person in need. Mason obliged, marking it on a post-it note, and leaving it in a visible place. The post-it led to questions, and eventually more people started donating an extra slice. Now, Mason feeds almost 100 homeless people a day! More than 20,000 slices of pizza have been paid forward to those in need.
“The place is covered in post-it notes,” said Mason. “It’s visually impactful. You can’t avoid it when you’re in the shop, so it raises awareness; people are naturally inquisitive about it.”
The almost viral success of the pay-it-forward pizza program has led to a lot of recognition for Mason’s effort to aid the homeless community, including an appearance on The Ellen Show. The attention has led to heightened awareness about poverty and homelessness, and Mason hopes to keep shining a spotlight on the subject.
“One of the most unexpected and powerful things in all of this is people coming away from the shop more educated,” said Mason. “It’s a humbling and informative experience. There are a lot of barriers and divisions in our society. The shop is serving as a place where those get broken down and two groups of people can learn about each other.”
In his free time Mason like to run, exercise, and is a huge reader, waking up two hours early every morning to read. He is bringing his girlfriend Diana with him on the cruise!