Slicing Hunger

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MASON WARTMAN
Founder & Owner – Rosa’s Fresh Pizza

I

named Rosa’s after my mom. Most people who have been following my work with Rosa’s know this by now. It’s pretty obvious that I love my mom and think she’s probably the greatest ever, so to change things up a bit, today I want to share a story about someone else’s mom.

To get everyone up to speed, I opened Rosa’s Fresh Pizza in the winter of 2013 to sell pizza by the slice for $1. Today, Rosa’s feeds about 100 homeless people everyday, and has given away more than 150,000 slices of pizza to those in need. I had grown frustrated with my job on Wall Street and saw the success of the $1 slice joints littered throughout New York City. I thought it was a concept that could work back home in Philadelphia, so I quit my job and started Rosa’s.  

A couple of months into operation, a customer visited after hearing that we had been serving many homeless people due to the affordability our food. He offered to buy a slice for the next homeless visitor, and it was there that our pay-it-forward program began. Since then, the program has grown, and has received a substantial amount of media attention from outlets such as Ellen, BBC News, USA Today, and NPR.

Anyone who’s familiar with Rosa’s probably knows the story of the mysterious visitor who inspired our charitable work. But it was a much more serendipitous encounter with a friend’s mom that set me down the path to eventually creating Rosa’s.

My sophomore year at Babson College ended in May of 2008. I had been a resident assistant that year, and struck up a friendship that continues to this day with one of the freshman who lived on my floor. Jordan Bray was moving out that day; I walked with him and his mom through an empty parking lot on campus.

I was discussing a book I was reading at the time, and Mrs. Bray recommended I check out Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. I had read a few of his other titles and enjoyed them, so I decided to borrow Outliers from the library. I finished it over the course of a week that summer. Like his other works, it is a thought-provoking book. The key piece I recall today is the 10,000 hour rule. Basically, to be a master of something, you must spend at least 10,000 hours working and practicing at it.

The second semester of my junior year, I interviewed with the Babson College Fund (BCF), a class my college offered to graduate and undergraduate students. The class manages a portion of the school’s endowment in the stock market. Obviously, it’s a competitive admissions process, and there is no way I can overstate to you how unqualified I was. I was a junior in college, and had pretty good grades, but I looked 14 and had almost no experience with the world of high finance.

The interview went well enough, although I couldn’t answer any of the technical questions they threw at me. Towards the end of the interview, Professor Spillane asked me why I wanted to join the BCF. I rambled a bit, then ended with, “I’m just trying to get my 10,000 hours in.”

“That’s what Malcolm Gladwell would say,” he replied.

I pointed at the professor. “Yes it is!” I responded. As it turned out, Professor Spillane had read Outliers, too.

I was accepted to join BCF in my senior year. I had no business being in that class, so the first three months were a struggle just to keep my head above water. I had little to contribute to the class and always felt that my stock analysis reports were juvenile no matter how hard I had worked on them. It wasn’t until the last couple weeks of the class that I felt like I belonged.

It was through the BCF that I met my future employer, who would ultimately offer me a job to work for them in Manhattan. There, too, I struggled to succeed in the first three months, but (being used to early failure by now) I flourished, and learned continuously in the three years before leaving to open Rosa’s.

“Today, Rosa’s feeds about 100 homeless people everyday, and has given away more than 150,000 slices of pizza to those in need.”

In many ways, life is a series of random encounters. Many are completely forgettable, like checking out a book from a librarian. Sometimes you remember encounters for the way they made you feel, like watching a classroom discussion and realizing that you have no idea what’s going on. For me, I will always remember the optimism I felt when that customer suggested a new way to make a difference in the lives of the neighborhood’s homeless. And it all started when a good friend’s mom inspired a change in my life through one book recommendation.

I’ve never had any warning of an impending life-changing moment–they aren’t announced with loud music or neon signs–but I’ve worked hard and I’ve adventured to places where I can meet new, interesting, different, and diverse people. I encourage you to do the same.  You’ll be glad you did.

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  • Philadelphia native, Mason Wartman returned to his hometown from working in Manhattan in 2013 to start Rosa’s Fresh Pizza, a pizza shop modeled after the $1 slice joints he admired in NYC. Opening and managing a pizza shop was a dramatic change from his daily routine of formatting reports and crunching numbers on Wall Street as an associate at a young equity research company. Several months into operation, a customer asked to pre-purchase a slice of pizza for one of the many homeless people that Rosa’s served. Mason liked the idea and made the pay-it-forward program a prominent part of his business model. Since that first slice, Rosa’s now feeds about 100 homeless people every day and has expanded to sell t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, gloves and socks to support the neighborhood’s homeless population. Mason attended high school at Germantown Academy and went on to get a Bachelor of Sciences in Business Administration with a concentration in finance at Babson College.

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