Over the past 9 months, a tiny pizza shop in Philadelphia, PA has seamlessly provided over 8,500 pieces of pizza to the homeless. That’s right. Rosa’s Fresh Pizza enables approximately 40 homeless people to enjoy pizza every single day.
The gratitude has not gone untold.
It all started when one customer asked Rosa’s if he could buy an extra slice for a nearby homeless person.
Mason Wartman, owner of Rosa’s Fresh Pizza, never aspired to be a “do good” pizza chef. In fact, Wartman spent the majority of his earlier career in equity research on Wall Street.
Inspired by a customer’s aspiration to pay it forward, Wartman began encouraging his other customers to do the same, placing a post-it note on his store walls each time a slice was donated to signify the kind gesture.
8,500 slices later, the random acts of kindness have turned into a daily routine.
THE BUSINESS MODEL:
We have examined the concept of visualization as a marketing tool in our prior company case studies, most notably with Warby Parker’s Buy a Pair Give a Pair Initiative.
Rosa’s Fresh Pizza has very successfully embodied visualization.
Visualization effectively evokes a connection between the consumer and the company’s mission. The consumer is confident that his donated dollar directly translates into a piece of pizza for someone else. When said consumer eats his/her slice of pizza, he/she can visualize a homeless person eating his/her own slice. And if a consumer wants additional gratification, he can just peruse the heartfelt thank you notes on Rosa’s walls.
THE BEAUTY OF THE DOLLAR BILL:
A slice of Rosa’s Fresh Pizza costs exactly 1 dollar.
The notion of “1 dollar” is vital. The concept of donating 1 extra dollar is easy for even the most selfish pizza lover to accept. After all, it’s only 1 dollar – 1 dollar is not a large sacrifice to the average consumer purchasing Rosa’s Fresh Pizza, but 1 dollar has tremendous value to the homeless person receiving the slice on the other side.
“One of the first homeless people that came in…he recently told me he got a job. He said, because of this program, he saved a couple bucks every day, got a suit, got a haircut, and got an interview. Now he’s working. A number of homeless people come in, get a slice regularly, then they come in another day, and all of a sudden say, ‘No no, I’m buying it today.’ They get internships, they get jobs, and they share their extra dollars. That’s the general pattern I’ve found.” – Mason Wartman
IS THIS MODEL SCALABLE?
One of the very first “pay-what-you-can” community kitchens was the One World Community cafe in Salt Lake City, Utah. Subsequently, other community cafes and kitchens followed suit, some with a volunteer effort such that the poor can gain work experience and the less fortunate can contribute. Singer / Songwriter Jon Bon Jovi expanded the concept in Red Bank, New Jersey, offering the suggested donation and volunteer option, while simultaneously emphasizing conversation and community with the motto “a healthy meal can feed the soul”.
The concept of a neighborhood community restaurant helping others has huge potential for scale, especially in smaller communities. In comedy film, Mr. Deeds, Adam Sandler plays such a proprietor such that he gives out free pizzas and establishes a community in which everyone knows each other.
There are limitations. It would not be wise for an up-scale restaurant that has branded itself on aesthetic appeal, clientele, and “image” to implement Rosa’s provide for the homeless policy. This could attract a clientele exactly opposite of what the up-scale restaurant is attempting to promote.
The pay-what-you-can model represents a significant market opportunity, far greater than the homeless population. The 2013 Census places 49 million Americans at risk for hunger, dwarfing the 634,000 estimated homeless by the Housing and Urban Development Agency (2012). Moreover, the clientele at a pay-what-you-can restaurant is not just the hungry or the homeless. Panera Cares, the social action arm of the Panera brand, has been able to attract a broad clientele. Panera Cares cafes post suggested prices. 60% of the clientele pay the suggested price, 20% pay a price greater than suggested, and the remaining 20% below suggested.
THE POWER OF THE INDIVIDUAL:
Rosa’s pay it forward initiative sprung from the voice of one individual.
In a way, social mission can be thought of as dominoes: one man’s idea turns into a small company’s business model, which kick-starts a larger company’s global initiative, which eventually coerces action at the country and government level. You get the picture.
The aggregation of individual action has true potential to ignite change.