PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A Wharton graduate student's love for pizza and his community spawned a unique effort that's helping those in need in Philadelphia.
Ben Berman, 27, is a Portland, Maine native and is set to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton business school next year.
But before Berman's move to the city in 2019, he says he used to travel frequently as a consultant, which meant eating mostly on the go and sleeping away from his cozy bed.
"When I got to Philadelphia last summer I started cooking a lot more and pretty quickly got into pizza," said Berman in an interview with Action News. "When COVID started in March, I had a big batch of dough that I was ready to make for my friends. It was that week where it was clear that we shouldn't be gathering as a big group anymore."
So, Berman developed a pulley system to safely deliver the goods due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What he now calls a "pizza drop" first started as a 40-foot rope towing a few pizzas slices in a plastic bag to his hungry friends below. The system now involves a well-structured box and a full pie.
The pizzas are all made out of Berman's second story Center City apartment. The recipe has one important ingredient: love.
"It's just about making everything with love. I'm using really good ingredients and I'm taking my time on every pizza. When I think about my pizza, I'm thinking about sort of thin and crispy with a little bit of chew on the top crust. Not too much cheese, not too much sauce, sort of the right amount of everything. Everything gets a little bit of basil, a little bit garlic oil on the crust before it goes out, and a little note on top of the box just to let people know that they've made a difference," said Berman.
With the increased demand from his friends and the community, Berman tweaked his mission a bit and launched Good Pizza. He now kneads enough dough for about 20 different pizzas for a single-day delivery.
Philadelphians sign up via a lottery system on Berman's Instagram page and the donations go to charity. Berman pays for all the pizza ingredients out of his own pocket and there's no charge to the customer. Any donations that are contributed, go right to local organizations Philabundance and Project HOME.
"The original thinking was, I can either give away $100 of my own dollars directly to one of these organizations or maybe I can spend $100 on pizza ingredients. I can make someone smile in the interim by making them a delicious pizza and maybe I can turn that $100 into 200, or 300, or $500," he said.
The Wharton student says he now drops free pizzas twice a month and hundreds of people flock to his sign-up sheet hoping to get a taste of his Philadelphia apartment-style pie.
"It's been unbelievably exciting but I know frustrating for folks, we've had over 900 people sign up for each of the past few lotteries and I only make 20 pies a night. After that, I find that my oven starts to smoke and gives up a little bit," Berman jokes.
And just when things started getting cooking, Good Pizza got the heat it needed. Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy, who is known for his popular pizza reviews, stopped by to see Berman in November. The visit alone brought new life to Berman's organization.
"Having the Barstool guys here and then doing a video, that really really opened up our followership and that brought in a lot of dollars. They were willing to match up to a certain amount-- Barstool donated $7,500," said Berman.
And he most recently got a visit from Tobias Harris and Matisse Thybulle of the Philadelphia 76ers who offered to match the next $5,000 in donations to Good Pizza. Berman expects $28,000 to be collected in total if the Sixers match goal is met.
"It was just such a blast for me to be able to sit down with them and hear about their charity in the community. My hope is that we can keep this Good Pizza challenge going and anyone in the Philadelphia community that wants to come and try to match donations like Tobias and Matisse did, I would love to have you over," said Berman.
Berman says he's received donations from people all over the world and he's just humbled by the outpouring of love.
"I started this for two reasons, one I just wanted to make people smile during what is a pretty crappy year for a lot of people, and pizza was my way of doing that... And the other reason is it's become a platform to give back to people that really need it this year," said Berman.
Berman is also no stranger to the kitchen. He says he grew up cooking with his mom and was even on the Food Network.
"In college, I actually started a food truck company up in Portland, Maine called Mainly Burgers and I ran that company for a few years. I started it with one of my best friends in the world and we grew that company together to three trucks and 60 employees. We had appeared on the Food Network and he still runs that company with his family. I'm just a huge fan of theirs now," he said.
When you order one of his pizzas, you can expect more than just a homemade pie, each delivery comes with a special message.
"I just sit down for 30 minutes before I start making pizza and on index cards hopefully write some notes to folks just saying, 'Thanks for making a difference today.' You know at the end of the day, this is more than anything an opportunity for me to make people smile," said Berman.
Berman is not sure what the future holds for Good Pizza, but for now, he does hope Philadelphians just keep smiling and stepping up to help each other.
"What's next for Good Pizza is just trying to take advantage of this amazing momentum that we have and continue to raise dollars for these organizations that are really doing incredible work... I'm having so much fun right now," he says. "I'm going to keep making pizza until I feed every one of you guys that's entering the lotteries."
This week, Good Pizza also dropped a line of merchandise and all the proceeds also go to a good cause. If you're craving some of his pizza, Berman says he's doing his last drop of the year this Friday, December 18, 2020.