Childhood friends open restaurant that exclusively employs formerly incarcerated individuals

Two friends from Philly are on a mission to reduce the city’s recidivism rates.

April 15, 2021, 4:05 AM

Two friends from Philadelphia are on a mission to reduce the city's recidivism rates by running a pizza shop run exclusively by formerly incarcerated men and women.

"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."

Lifelong friends Kurt Evans and Muhammed Abdul-Hadi have always had a passion for giving back to their community. After several months of planning, the two decided to combine their love of pizzas and their passion to serve by opening up Down North Pizza in the heart of North Philadelphia last month.

After seeing how incarceration impacted their families and how many of their loved ones couldn't find employment after leaving prison, Evans and Abdul-Hadi knew the pizzeria was the perfect way to help reduce Philadelphia's recidivism rate.

Down North Pizza in Philadelphia neighborhood aims to help erase employment barriers faced by formerly incarcerated people.
Courtesy Amurri Lauren

Employment is associated with reduced recidivism, or the likelihood of a former felon to reoffend upon release, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Known for its delicious Detroit-style pizzas, Down North Pizza provides culinary career opportunities at a fair wage for individuals previously involved in the justice system. Each of its eight employees was taught various skills in the kitchen as a stepping stone back into society.

"We just want to meet people where they're at and help them along the way," Evans told "GMA." "It was very important for us to help these people coming from the system and break the cycle of mass incarceration."

Down North Pizza in Philadelphia neighborhood aims to help erase employment barriers faced by formerly incarcerated people.
Courtesy Amurri Lauren

Employees who require short-term housing units are also offered six months of free rent at the upstairs apartment, ultimately allowing workers time to save funds for permanent living.

Since opening in March, lines have been out the door with many in the community showing their support. The restaurant is also garnering online attention, including a feature from Color Coded Voices, an online platform that highlights positive news and outstanding stories from communities of color.

Michael Carter, who was the first hire at the eatery and had years of prior experience in the kitchen, said working at Down North is about more than just making pizzas.

"I fit the criteria because of my own story. I was locked up in 2015, about two weeks before my youngest daughter was born," Carter told "GMA." "I was happy to be a part of the mission and be able to push the line for social justice."

Evans and Abdul-Hadi said they hope to be an example for Black businesses and encourage other establishments to find ways to give back to their communities.

"If you want to get involved, you can start by partnering with local organizations that are like-minded," Evans told "GMA." "Usually the community is speaking to you about what it needs, you just have to listen."