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Filling a Void in North Philly with Pizza and Opportunity

DNP Team 2 L to R Kurt, Muhammad, Mike

There’s a new pizza joint in North Philadelphia, but it offers more than just a tasty slice. Down North is pizza with a purpose. Founded by entrepreneur Muhammad Abdul-Hadi and Chef Kurt Evans, Down North exclusively employs formerly incarcerated people with a mission to provide opportunity and an equitable workplace, while also feeding an underserved community. “I wanted to give them a good, fresh food option, an item that everybody can love and appreciate,” explains Abdul-Hadi, “And we all know that’s pizza.”

Together with Executive Chef Mike Carter, they developed a menu of Detroit-style square slices with distinctly Philly names like No Betta Love and Roc the Mic, with their signature “Norf” sauce. A selection of wings, fries and milkshakes round out the menu, all available Thursday through Sunday from noon until they are sold out. In a short time, they garnered attention for both the cause and the food. “The mission gets them in the door, but the product keeps them coming back,” says Abdul-Hadi.

down north pizza counter

He purchased the location in 2015 with the intention of benefiting the local community, but it wasn’t until he attended an EMI (End Mass Incarceration) dinner that the idea solidified. “It’s always been a mission of mine personally,” he notes. “I focus on those who are having trouble getting a second chance.” New hires are taught basic culinary skills and given housing in the building to help them save their income. And when the candidates are ready to find more advanced positions, Down North partners with local establishments with placement opportunities.

The concept took about two years to create. It is a self-funded project, and Abdul-Hadi wanted to take his time to develop it correctly. The Covid-19 pandemic provided the much-needed break from his other endeavors to “slow down and hyper focus on the restaurant.” It first operated as a popup with a ghost kitchen in October 2020, and the current location had its official grand opening in March 2021.

square pizza from down north

Going forward, Abdul-Hadi looks to possibly replicate his concept in other underprivileged communities, noting that formerly incarcerated people can “hold a high value in society, even though they’re written off.” Helping revitalize lives and neighborhoods is his top priority. Plus of course, “everyone loves pizza.”


AnnMarie Mattila

AnnMarie Mattila is a food writer, recipe developer and pastry chef based in New York. She has a master's degree from New York University in Food Studies and sometimes eats cake for dinner. Follow her at



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