Unfortunately, even the best laid plans sometimes come to nothing. When faced with hardship, it is our ability to bounce back that really reveals our character. That is the case with Hakki Akdeniz. In this tale, a guy who had lost everything rises from the ashes to win the World Pizza Championship.
It was easy for Hakki Akdeniz to succumb to hatred and despair when his buddy took four years’ worth of funds from him. For the next five years, he worked as a waiter and collected money so that he could build his own restaurant.
A visit to one eatery led to a slew of others. One of the most amazing men in history is now in charge of a multi-billion-dollar restaurant business. Because of its dedication to giving back to the community, Champion Pizza embodies Akdeniz’s core principles. When Akdeniz arrived in New York twenty years ago, he found himself on the icy streets of the city. He will never forget what he went through. Many people’s lives have been altered by his understanding of the desperation and shame felt by those in that situation.
The difficulties that Akdeniz overcame moulded his will to perseverance and hope. His entrepreneurial energy was visible from an early age, as he experimented with methods to make money in a low-income neighbourhood in Turkey. Before relocating to Canada and working in his brother’s pizza shop, he worked as a shoe shiner and sold sandwiches.
Hope and a few hundred bucks got him to New York, but without help, his life quickly fell apart there as well. The pizza business where Akdeniz worked as a dishwasher was a refuge for the homeless in New Jersey. To go back to New York after night shifts, he had to sleep on a bench since trains were too confusing. When Akdeniz informed his supervisor, he was prepared for rejection, but instead he got a hug and a place to live. As Akdeniz puts it, “I was homeless, yet he welcomed me as a person.”
Those who have a place to call home and those who don’t are separated by a chasm of humanity. Paper-thin is how narrow the line is between the two states. A downward spiral may be set off by a single decision or set of circumstances. Perhaps this is why we’ve come to believe that the homeless are lazy, drug addicts, or otherwise undesirable individuals. We may be afraid of seeing ourselves mirrored if we look too carefully.
From the New York City homeless population that Akdeniz aids, he has had the opportunity to hear hundreds of tales. He claims that everyone has a narrative and that no one finds up homeless by choice. Champion Pizza has hired a wide range of people, from people who have been in the military to people who used to work in TV, but they all have one thing in common: they all work hard at their jobs to keep from becoming homeless again. Akdeniz is convinced that this is a group of individuals looking for a job, seeking meaning, safety, and community. He hopes that other company owners may consider employing them as well.
Akdeniz’s life was transformed by a pizza competition. After years of planning and preparation, he finally launched his own restaurant, but things were not going well. He camped out beneath the pizza oven to save money on rent. When the 2010 World Pizza Championship arose, he was on the verge of a crushing defeat. Akdeniz took first place in all four categories, and his antics with spinning bread on fire were nothing short of astounding!
Champion Pizza’s success rescued his company and enabled it to thrive, allowing him to prioritise compassion and respect that is inherent in the brand and to become a franchise. Frozen pizza and other food brands are now part of the company’s portfolio. Even though Akdeniz’s firm grew to great heights, he never lost sight of the importance of assisting others and giving back to the community.
Akdeniz and his restaurant staff began by handing out warm clothes and hot meals on West 34th Street on a weekly basis. By2018, he had given away more than 200,000 slices of pizza, never forgetting how it felt to not be able to buy one. He has a personal connection to the Bowery Mission since he had lived there as a homeless person. Hurricane Sandy and Maria victims have also received help from Champion Pizza.
Akdeniz, who has won the 2019 Beacon Award and been praised by the New York City Council, the New York House of Representatives, and the L.E.S. Hispanic council, among others, keeps things in perspective. Akdeniz’s emotional message to his 17 million Instagram followers is one of compassion and the necessity of humility. In our modern, productivity-driven society, people sometimes want to be happy without caring about others. Akdeniz is a good force that reminds us to be kind for no reason, to give without thinking about getting something in return, and, most importantly, to be a good person.