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Ellen DeGeneres Honors Babson Entrepreneur For Feeding The Homeless

Mason Wartman ’10, owner of  Rosa’s Fresh Pizza in Philadelphia, has been honored on the Ellen DeGeneres Show for feeding his homeless customers.

“Three months after opening, a customer came in and left a dollar to buy a slice for a homeless person, and Mason turned it into a pay-it-forward pizza system whereby people can buy slices for the homeless. He’s since served over 8,500 slices to the homeless, and serves about 30-40 homeless people daily,” reports Ellen’s website.

Ellen invited Mason to the show this week to share his story, and to help him generate more business.

“I’m just really flattered that she thought my story was cool,” Mason said backstage after the show. “It’s definitely a nice way to break up the week – that’s for sure.”

After the pay-it-forward system took off, Mason’s walls became covered in post-it notes representing customer gifts, and he’s aiming to eventually open up more shops around the city to continue his program. Ellen gave Mason a new sign for his storefront window and a $10,000 check from Shutterfly to cover pizza for those in need.

Rosa’s is modeled after the dollar-pizza joints Wartman had seen pop up all over New York City while he was working on Wall Street, he tells Babson Magazine.  After three years in the city, he had become ‘a little bored’ with the spreadsheet-and-cubicle life. So he hatched a plan to try the dollar-pizza concept in his hometown of Philly. Coming from a family of small-business owners, he also was drawn to the challenge and freedom of running his own shop. “I like the concept of simple businesses that do one thing and do it really well,” he says.

As he approaches his first anniversary in business, Wartman says he loves the vibrant mix of customers—both paying and nonpaying—who have passed through his shop. Watching the community come together over the Little Rosa program has been a highlight of the last year, though Wartman worries a bit about how to keep it going. “Paying customers donate once because they like the idea, and then they keep coming back because the pizza is great, but most people don’t keep donating,” Wartman says. But he’s driven to make it work, one hot slice at a time.