“You know, pizza’s pizza.” CEO and Co-founder of Down North Pizza, Muhammed Abdul-Hadid is seated just off-camera, the phone aimed at the ceiling. “However, the impact we’re trying to make is bigger than pizza.”
Abdul-Hadid, Philly born and based, is the CEO and co-founder of Down North Pizza. This new mission-led, for-profit pizza restaurant aims to employ formerly incarcerated people and fight recidivism rates. All while serving fresh, hot “Philly style pizza” to communities in Philadelphia.
Down North, which opens later this month, is not a one-man organization. Its co-founder Kurt Evans is a chef who has been involved with projects such as End Mass Incarceration dinners, a dinner series aimed to raise funds and engage in discussions around efforts to end mass incarceration.
The idea for Down North pizza came to Abdul-Hadid at one of these dinners.
“It kind of dawned on me, you know, what can we do to reduce recidivism and mass incarceration,” Abdul-Hadid said. “So from that we’ve kind of brainstormed [and we] came up with the idea of Down North pizza.”
According to a 2018 study by the Philadelphia Reentry Coalition, Philadelphia’s recidivism rate is about 34%.
Down North Pizza’s fight against recidivism
By bringing Down North to neighborhoods such as Strawberry Mansion and providing people with food, culinary career opportunities, and a fair wage, Abdul-Hadid and Evans hope to lower these numbers and change the justice system.
Abdul-Hadid, who has a criminal justice degree from Temple University, sees the issues with the criminal justice system. “This is a big issue, and it’s gonna take time and a lot of focus, and a lot of support for us who kind of acted as though the system needs to be abolished, and kind of rebuilt,” he said.
“I don’t think there’s a reform for a system that is working (…) the way they wanted it to work, so I feel like a total abolishment of the system is the ultimate goal.”– Abdul-Hadid, CEO and Co-founder of Down North Pizza
Abdul-Hadid explained that it was crucial to place the business within the community instead of outside of it. “It kind of empowers the community from within,” he said.
“We want the pizza to become a second. The community empowerment and reducing recidivism is what we want on the forefront.”– Abdul-Hadid, CEO and Co-founder of Down North Pizza
The plan to involve the local youth
“We’re planning on doing pizza for the kids, the third Saturday of the month, where we bring kids from the neighborhood (…) and (…) we provide them with all the ingredients to make a pizza and we’ll let them design their own pizza.”
This competition for the best pizza design would take about six weeks. “We’ll put [the winning] pizza on the menu for a certain period of time and provide like different prizes for that person,” Abdul-Hadid said.
While lowering recidivism rates is one of the main focuses, Down North is also about good food. “There’s like a food desert in those inner-city urban communities,” Abdul-Hadid said.
“With the ingredients that we use, we’re going to kind of get them back into that mindset of eating good food.”– Abdul-Hadid, CEO and Co-founder of Down North Pizza
Abdul-Hadid’s ambition for helping the community doesn’t stop with the physical pizza restaurant. “We have a whole rollout of programs that we intend on doing for the community,” he said.
They’re planning to turn empty lots into community gardens that can grow the very ingredients used for the pizzas.
Down North Pizza is working closely with local organizations
“We’re working with the city to set up a plethora of programs that filter formerly incarcerated individuals through like a database,” Abdul-Hadid said. “So, they will be referring a lot of formerly incarcerated people to us.”
“We also have two apartments on top of the actual restaurant that we will be housing individuals that are in need of housing that are going through this kind of cohort program with down north,” Abdul-Hadid said.
One of the programs they’re working with supplements the rent for formerly incarcerated people for the first six months as long as they’re employed.
“This is kind of another way that we can tackle two problems because recidivism is one problem and the other problem is stable housing for people returning to society…”– Abdul-Hadid, CEO and Co-founder of Down North Pizza
Abdul-Hadid is already looking at the future of Down North pizza. “The goal is to take this same idea, same strategy to other cities around the United States that need it as well,” he said.
“We’re not stopping here. This is step one, we plan on taking this thing on a roll.”– Abdul-Hadid, CEO and Co-founder of Down North Pizza