Philly restaurant only employs formerly incarcerated people

"It was very important for us to help these people coming from the system and break the cycle of mass incarceration," Kurt Evans said

Two Philadelphia friends, Kurt Evans and Muhammed Abdul-Hadi opened a pizza restaurant that exclusively employs formerly incarcerated men and women in an effort to reduce the recidivism rate in their city.

In an interview with Good Morning America, Evans said he and Abdul-Hadi opened Down North in the heart of North Philadelphia in March to combine their love of pizza and passion for serving the community.

“We’re changing the quality of life for our community by being the hand that feeds and teaching others to do the same,” Evans said.

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After witnessing how incarceration impacts their loved ones who struggled to find adequate employment after leaving prison, the childhood friends believed that their new business was the perfect platform to help.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, employment helps to decrease the likelihood that a former felon will re-offend after their prison release.

Down North Pizza, known for its Detroit-style pizzas, provides culinary opportunities to employees at a fair wage. Eight of their employees were taught skills in the kitchen. Those who require short-term housing units were offered an apartment above the restaurant where they could stay for six months rent-free, which allows workers to save their money to find permanent housing.

Since opening, the restaurant has received tremendous support.

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

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Michael Carter, who was the first employee hired and had prior kitchen experience, said Down North Pizza is making a difference for people like him looking for a second chance.

“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 Good Morning America. “I was happy to be a part of the mission and be able to push the line for social justice.”

Last December, Down North Pizza collaborated with the Philadelphia 76ers in an effort to promote small businesses.

On social media, people praised Evans and Abdul-Hadi and expressed their intentions to come to support them.

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