Small Business Philanthropy: Restaurants Feeding the Homeless
One of the most rewarding aspects of running a small business is having the freedom and flexibility to make a difference in the community. Small businesses are giving generously to needy people and organizations every day, and in many ways, generosity is also good marketing. When customers see a small business doing great things for people in their community, they’re more likely to feel good about spending money at that business.
One of the most fundamental ways for people to show generosity to each other is by sharing a meal. This spirit of generosity is alive at many independently owned restaurants throughout the U.S. where hard-working small business owners are going to great lengths to be generous and creative in feeding the homeless and providing special meals to people in need.
Here are a few of the stories of these inspiring, generous small business owners.
Rosa’s Fresh Pizza in Philadelphia: “Pay It Forward” Pizza
Rosa’s Fresh Pizza is a small pizza restaurant in Philadelphia that sells pizza by the slice for $1 per slice. One day, a customer asked the store owner, Mason Wartman, if he could pay in advance to buy a slice for a homeless person. Mason said, “sure,” took the dollar and put up a Post-it note on the wall to indicate that a slice had already been purchased and was paid in advance so a homeless person could get a free slice at any time.
This simple act of generosity became a social media phenomenon. During the next 9 months, Rosa’s customers spent $8,400 on free pizza slices for homeless people who they would most likely never meet – they just wanted to create a simple safety net to help hungry people get a piece of hot pizza when they needed it most. The walls of Rosa’s were soon covered by colorful Post-It notes, where donors wrote little messages of hope and encouragement.
Rosa’s “Pay It Forward” pizza is not just about food – it’s about empowerment and dignity. Sometimes homeless people buy Rosa’s slices for each other, and sometimes formerly homeless people come back to Rosa’s to “pay it forward” by buying a slice. According to NPR, one of the Post-It notes reads: “I just want to thank everyone that donated to Rosa’s; it gave me a place to eat every day and the opportunity to get back on my feet. I start a new job tomorrow!”
George’s Senate Coney Island: Feeding the Homeless on Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving Day is often a day of rest for small business owners – it can be hard to take time off from running your business, but Thanksgiving is one holiday that almost every business owner tries to take off from work. However, for George Dimopoulos, a restaurateur in Northville, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, Thanksgiving is just another workday – but instead of making money for himself, he spends the day providing a free meal to homeless people and anyone who is lonely and spending Thanksgiving alone.
For the past 10 years, he has hosted “George’s Thanksgiving Day Dinner,” where anyone who is homeless or alone on the holiday can come to his restaurant to enjoy a free Thanksgiving meal of turkey and mashed potatoes, or Coney Island hot dogs. According to ABC News, George was born in Greece and left home at age 12 to move to Athens, where he occasionally had to ask other people to give him food. He said to ABC News, “The reason I do this is because I was alone one time…I remember the good times and bad times.”
Tabrizi’s Mediterranean Restaurant: Offering “Restaurant Week for the Homeless”
Restaurant Week is a major promotional event for restaurants in many cities, where restaurants agree to offer a special discounted menu to promote their businesses and raise their restaurants’ profile among adventurous foodies in their cities. But instead of using Restaurant Week to promote his business, Michael Tabrizi, owner of Tabrizi’s Mediterranean restaurant in Baltimore, decided to use it as an occasion for bold generosity.
According to CNN Money, Tabrizi opted not to participate in Baltimore Restaurant Week during July 2015, and instead offered five days of free meals to more than 1,100 homeless people. He spent $20,000 of his own money on the five-day event, in addition to foregone revenue from closing his business temporarily to paying customers. The menu consisted of Cordon Bleu chicken, salad, sides, sparkling apple cider and ice cream, served in an all-you-can-eat buffet with champagne flutes and china place settings. Tabrizi even helped to organize free shuttle buses to bring homeless people from shelters to the restaurant.
Michael Tabrizi told CNN Money that he wants people to change their perspective on what it means to be homeless. “I just wish people would treat the homeless in a different way,” he said. “People should remember it’s always good to hear kindness and it’s important to look people in the eye. The homeless feel less human – like they’re invisible. They just want to be respected.”
The event was such a big success that Michael has recently announced plans on Facebook to host a special white linen Christmas dinner on December 16 for 150 homeless people. He wrote, “My last initiative feeding the homeless was the beginning of a journey, on the 16th of this month, I will invite 150 homeless people for a white linen dinner at my place. We have arranged for music and entertainment with prizes, I can only hope I can give those people a glimpse of what life can be and maybe restore hope in their lives. Something they look forward to, just like we looked forward to Christmas Day morning opening gifts as children.”
Joel Testa: Fine Dining (and More) for the Homeless
Joel Testa is a real estate developer and restaurant owner in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio who has a special mission to help make life better for homeless people. Joel adopted a son whose biological father became homeless after losing a job, which reminded Joel of how precarious financial stability can be, and how anyone can become homeless with a bit of bad luck.
With that in mind, Joel has created a charitable foundation to help the homeless called the Formerly Homeless Foundation. His real estate company helps to develop affordable housing to help homeless people get off the streets, and his four-star restaurant, DBA (Dante Boccuzzi Akron) in Akron, Ohio, hosts an annual fine dining Christmas dinner for homeless people each year in December. Last year’s dinner served 70 homeless people who got to enjoy a special menu of Italian specialties and a tiramisu parfait for dessert.
Joel believes that homeless people deserve to enjoy a really nice dinner on a special occasion, just like anyone who is in a more comfortable financial position. He was quoted in the media as saying that the public perception of homelessness is “a little warped” because many homeless people are living in cars, couch surfing with friends or even working multiple jobs – many homeless people have lost their homes through no fault of their own; in fact, many homeless people are women with children who have fled domestic violence.
Small business owners are often some of the most energetic and generous people in the world – they are determined to be leaders in their communities and make a difference for people in need. There are so many great stories out there of restaurant owners and other business owners who are creating positive momentum to address social problems and to give tirelessly and generously to people in need. One of the inspirations for starting a business is to make money and enjoy a more independent way of life, but many business owners find that their business also gives them a powerful sense of mission to make a bigger positive impact on the world.