Opinions & Features April 15, 2021 at 01:00 pm

Inside the Philly restaurant that gives jobs exclusively to ex-cons

Ama Nunoo April 15, 2021 at 01:00 pm

April 15, 2021 at 01:00 pm | Opinions & Features

Down North Pizza hires formerly incarcerated as a way to give back their commmunity. Photo: Good Morning America

Recidivism occurs when formerly incarcerated people are unable to reintegrate into society after serving their time. Usually, it becomes difficult getting their life on track because most institutions do not hire ex-convicts. Two childhood friends from Philadelphia have opened their own pizza joint with the sole intent of hiring ex-convicts to break the cycle of recidivism.

Kurt Evans and Muhammed Abdul-Hadi are the co-founders of Down North Pizza, which opened its doors to the public in March to give back to society.

Knowing how food brings people together, the lifelong friends combined their passion for food, specifically pizzas, and their need to serve their community to open a joint right in the heart of North Philadelphia to serve their community and its environs.

Coming from a background and having witnessed firsthand how difficult it is for ex-convicts to find gainful employment that is within the minimum wage, the pair decided to be that beacon of hope for these people and their families. 

“We’re changing the quality of life for our community by being the hand that feeds and teaching others to do the same,” co-founder Kurt Evans told Good Morning America.

According to a 2018 study by the Philadelphia Reentry Coalition, Philadelphia’s recidivism rate is about 34%. The main strategy to cut the cycle of recidivism is employment but most formerly incarcerated people are not given equal opportunities as their counterparts who have not slept behind bars, and that’s where Down North Pizza comes in.

Evans got the idea to open their own pizzeria to serve “Philly style pizza” from projects he has worked on in the past, with most of them being support groups for formerly incarcerated people. At one such event for End Mass Incarceration dinners, a light bulb lit in Abdul-Hadid’s head and that was it. The childhood besties brainstormed and birthed Down North Pizza.

As part of their initiative to truly eradicate recidivism, each one of their eight employees was given in-house training on various skills needed in the kitchen so they take on various roles at any point in time. Then there is free accommodation for six months in the flats on top of Down North Pizza for those who have been displaced after their brush with the legal system. This is meant to serve as an incentive for the employees so they can save up and move to their own place when the time is up.

The two friends’ vision to truly end the cycle of mass incarcerations and give back to their community does not end with their pizzeria. They intend on creating their own community garden by repurposing empty lots to grow the ingredients used for the pizza.

Per Kulturehub, they have also liaised with like-minded groups to form a bigger support system for formerly incarcerated people and they look to replicate the structures they are setting up in Philadelphia in other states in the near future as an assured way to end recidivism in the entire country.

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