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Down North Pizza with Purpose

Cover Image for Down North Pizza with Purpose
By Sophie Brochu

Muhammad Abdul-Hadi opened Down North Pizza in 2015 to create change in Philadelphia’s Strawberry Mansion community. His for-profit, mission-driven pizza shop exclusively hires formerly incarcerated individuals. In addition to its community-driven efforts, Down North Pizza has received national recognition for their crispy, fluffy, delicious Detroit-style pizza. Here’s what Abdul-Hadi has to say about the art of cooking, giving back, and future plans.

The Beginning of Down North Pizza

It started back in 2015 with me purchasing a building in North Philadelphia, in a poverty stricken community, and having a vision of wanting to do something for the neighborhood without taking from the neighborhood. 

Why Pizza?

Pizza is a universal food item that everybody loves, everybody consumes. Also, it’s not a space that African Americans occupy on the equity side, so it was something that I was looking to penetrate because of the lack of representation. 

The “Say Yes” pie.

Detroit-style Pizza in Philly

It was a nostalgia thing because we grew up eating square pies. We grew up eating Leo’s pizza in a box, frozen pizza. Back when Pizza Hut would make that square, buttery crust.

On Giving Back

Anything I do has to have some sort of a socially conscious mission behind it. You always have to be in the mode of giving back. I feel like you continue to be blessed in what you’re doing when being conscious about others. So, I wanted to particularly focus on the formerly incarcerated demographic because it’s something that plagues this particular area in Philadelphia. Opening this pizzeria, we exclusively hire formerly incarcerated individuals and make some bomb pizza, that’s it.

“We exclusively hire formerly incarcerated individuals and make some bomb pizza, that’s it.”

The Biggest Challenge for the Formerly Incarcerated

Because landlords are allowed to discriminate based on criminal background, it’s finding housing. Outside of finding employment and finding the various resources needed to survive in society, housing is a big thing. We have two apartments above the store for those who need them. We’re able to subsidize certain programs through the state and offer six months free of rent. We figured, let’s combat two issues that plague these individuals: employment and housing.

The Art of Cooking

I would consider myself maybe a serial entrepreneur, but I’ve always loved the art of cooking because I’m into art. So, the way food was plated, for me, I loved just looking at it. You know how they say, people eat with their eyes, right?

Executive chef Michael Carter.

A Stance on Pineapple

You know, there’s always that controversy, does pineapple belong on pizza? I think we’ve expelled all of the doubt because we caramelize our pineapples. We don’t just put the tart pineapples on pizza. We use caramelized pineapples, beef bacon, and our signature smoked barbecue sauce. So there’s no tomato sauce on the pie. It’s sweet and savory.

Toward the Future

We’re looking at some of the cities around the United States that are in need of restaurants like this. I think people equate this as some type of program. No, this is a for-profit business model. We’re trying to get people out of the idea that it’s purely help-based or non-profit. It’s a socially conscious business model that works. You can help people and still make money. And we’re actually about to start shipping pizzas nationwide, too.

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TaggedBlack History Month

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