The secret to great pizza is less in the ingredients and more in the people who make them.
“When you invest in people, you get the greatest return,” said shop owner Muhammad Abdul-Hadi.
When Abdul-Hadi bought the building where his pizzeria is located in 2015, North Philadelphia needed an opportunity in addition to quality food.
“When they talk about it, it’s usually in a negative light because so many negative things are going on in north Philadelphia,” he said.
And while a good cake can make a positive difference, it is the purpose of his Down North Pizza pizzeria that he hopes can make a difference.
“Down North Pizza’s mission is to ensure that we only hire former prisoners,” said Abdul-Hadi.
“At the moment I am 35 years old. I have been in prison for over 12 years, “said staff member Mike Carter.
Carter’s job title is Chef, but he’s on probation for the criminal justice system. He says the system makes it difficult to leave your past behind.
“Many people seem to think the dictionary definition of relapse, which means to commit another crime and be sent back to prison. No, I can basically get a better job tomorrow and not tell my PO and they can hurt me and take me back to the backcountry, “he explained.
More than a quarter of ex-offenders are unemployed. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the numbers are even higher for blacks at 35.2% for men and 43.6% for women.
Often times, a background check can be enough to get a company going the other way.
“You’re missing out on a lot of good talent, man. The most reliable and hard-working people I have ever worked with have been people who were previously incarcerated, “said Abdul-Hadi.
More than 10 million jobs in the US are vacant More than 40% of small businesses have vacancies.
Now leaders including President Biden are encouraging companies to take this opportunity to give a chance to those looking for an opportunity.
“Give them a chance because that’s all they ask for is a chance,” said Abdul-Hadi.
At Down North Pizza, Abdul-Hadi pays workers at least $ 15 an hour and provides apartments in upstairs apartments if they cannot find an apartment.
“They have been told no so many times, and whoever is willing to take the risk and say yes gets the reward in my eyes,” said Abdul-Hadi.
A risk that pays off. This year, Down North Pizza was voted one of the best pizzerias in Philadelphia.
Now the people of north Philadelphia have something to be proud of. It’s Down North Pizza, “said Abdul-Hadi.
Something to be proud of, Mike Carter, a former prison cook and now head chef.
“It’s real life. It’s not a policy. It’s not a bipartisan thing. This is my life, ”said Carter.
The hope is that the popularity of his pizza will open people’s eyes to a fight he knows all too well.
“We are actually able to start a conversation, an honest conversation that is politically incorrect. It is what it is, ”said Carter.