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June 18

Juneteenth Spotlight: Down North Pizza Empowers the Philadelphia Community

BY: Instagram Business Team

San Francisco, CA

The tagline at Philadelphia’s Down North Pizza is “pizza with a purpose,” and the mission-driven business lives and breathes its motto. Every slice contributes to their mission to reduce recidivism through economic empowerment and opportunity. The pizzeria exclusively employs formerly incarcerated individuals, providing culinary career opportunities at a fair wage and in an equitable workplace.

“Juneteenth is an opportunity to look at where we came from and how the effects of slavery still live on today,” said owner and CEO Muhammad Abdul-Hadi. He believes that if you can bring people together to eat, then you can get them to talk about things that matter and create change.

Photo of a Down North Pizza staff member holding a box of pizza

Down North Pizza fully embraces a family-style mentality — “everybody eats,” the restaurant touts — and sources, serves, and hires locally in North Philly. Executive chef Michael Carter has been cooking his entire life, from preparing dishes for family reunions to working at a barbecue restaurant his family once owned. “This is my heritage, something that I always just… feel confident in,” Carter said.

“The business model is unique because it’s honest, because the restaurant industry has survived off the backs of formerly incarcerated and undocumented workers for years, but they have never shined the actual light on the talent,” he continued. “Down North basically is the catalyst for the whole industry to see and hopefully follow behind and start highlighting people from my particular background.”

Photo of a Down North Pizza staff member in the kitchen with dough

Down North Pizza was born when Abdul-Hadi and chef artist-activist Kurt Evans asked themselves the question: How can we benefit the community from within the community? Evans, born and raised in Philly and with over a decade of cooking experience under his belt, wanted to use his culinary skills to help end mass incarceration. Abdul-Hadi, meanwhile, noticed a “food desert” in underprivileged and under-resourced neighborhoods. They decided to use a food item everybody loves (pizza, duh!) to prompt a “bigger conversation” about issues in town.

“By being the catalyst and spearheading the movement, we hope more people want to come to the neighborhood and provide resources and opportunity for the community through employment and housing,” Abdul-Hadi said.

It took roughly two years to get the pizzeria off the ground, and the team learned many lessons along the way. As they put their values into practice on a daily basis, they have some advice for other businesses looking to do the same:

  1. Make impact a part of your business all year, not just during Juneteenth.
  2. Focus on the people and you will be rewarded.
  3. Diversify your hiring pool! You're losing out on so much talent by not investing in the formerly incarcerated.
Photo of the Down North Pizza storefront

For inspiration, Down North looks to fellow mission-driven businesses like Curran J.’s K.R.T Cycling (focused on Black equity in the cycling community), Daniel Buezo’s Kids of Immigrants (an apparel company focused on fostering creativity within community) and Marleisse Stephens’ Working Remotely (a virtual networking and branding company providing brand development to Black and brown-owned businesses). Fun fact: Working Remotely developed Down North’s branding pro-bono and helped launch the biz!

So what’s next for Down North? Continuing to give back to the community that’s given them so much, of course. To increase sustainability, they’ve planted a garden across the street so residents can pick fresh produce and vegetables. They’re also looking to put community centers in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood of Philly, as well as a food co-up in the wider North Philly area. As Abdul-Hadi put it: “We’re the people’s pizza.”

It's now easier to discover Black-owned businesses directly on Instagram. If you're located in the US, you'll see the “Black-owned” label on the profile and corresponding product pages of any eligible business that has self-designated as Black-owned. You can also explore curated collections created by @Shop in the Shop tab, highlighting a range of products from Black-owned businesses. (Update on July 1, 2021 at 9:00AM PT: Businesses based in the US with Shops on Instagram will now be able to designate as Black-owned and display a “Black-owned” label.)

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BY: Instagram Business Team

San Francisco, CA