Pizza is the way to millions of people’s stomachs and hearts across America, but the way pizza is delivered took on a life of its own at the start of the pandemic. We’ve heard of pizza delivery service, but a pulley system window drop from a second story window? Talk about social distancing.
Back in March 2020, graduate student at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania Ben Berman was readying to have friends over for pizza. And then, like millions, the party was halted due to the pandemic. There lay unused homemade dough for 20 pizzas, and since Berman had been experimenting more with pizza since moving to Philadelphia to get his MBA, he figured he’d make the best out of a bad situation, not knowing what it would lead to.
After baking that first pizza and dropping it down to his friends, it was a happy moment — and it turned into so much more. He started making more pizzas and friends would Venmo him money that was sent directly to local charities in the Philly area that addressed food security like Philabundane, Project Home and Share Food Program. All of the money for ingredients comes out of Berman’s own pocket. Good Pizza PHL was a hit, and it’s now a thriving initiative that’s raised more than $65,000 for charity and the attention of the likes of Barstool Sports, CBS This Morning, NBC Nightly News and the Ellen DeGeneres show.
Word traveled to LloydPans in the beginning of 2021, and the innovation team sent Berman a few pizza pans to test out. Berman requested more:
Since the initial email exchange, Berman more than doubled the amount raised and donated for hunger relief. In addition, he auctioned off one of the pans for hunger relief.
The pizza crust is always thin, and the mostly cheese topping has stayed the same, especially due to Berman’s schedule and the pizza lottery that’s involved. Berman bakes twice a month as his busy school schedule allows, and the dough requires a three-day fermentation — one day at room temperature, followed by two days in the refrigerator.
“I buy ingredients from Di Bruno Bros., which is two blocks away. They’ve been really helpful,” Berman says. “I also have a partnership with Hormel Foods for pepperoni, and I get my flour from King Arthur. I knead dough on Thursday, and I make the pizza on Sundays from a rental home electric oven — it’s a basic home apartment oven.”
As for the lottery, 20 winners are selected from a Friday random draw of which 1,000 people enter weekly. Sunday is when the magic happens with the pulley drop to the lucky winners. Berman wasn’t sure which type of LloydPans he was going to choose from, but the ones he ended up getting keep pizza making fun and fresh for him.
“I play around with recipes. Thick walled for Detroit-stye and one-inch for Grandma -style,” he says. “My mom said it was the best pan she’d ever used, and LloydPans was one of the first companies to send stuff, which was totally new and awesome. It’s so great to have them on my team. And, the pans really save you in the long run.”
The notoriety Berman is receiving is the stuff dreams are made of, and although Berman has no plans to franchise the pulley system idea out to other cities, he’s thankful when he sees people do something similar for a good cause, which turned from fun to non-profit almost overnight.
“The Barstool news went from a fun thing that I do on the weekends to ‘oh God, this is a much larger following.’ It was the first to where I realized I should be thinking a little more carefully about what I’m doing here,” Berman says.
Berman, now thinking about expanding into making a frozen product (a Grandma-style pizza using LloydPans) has never taken a penny of proceeds for himself, showing that pizza and good intentions truly can make a big difference.
“When I got to school and I was cooking more, pizza was such an exciting problem to solve, more than any other food with all of these different variables and changes,” Berman says. “Fermentation time, temperature and salt content made significant changes to the dough I was making and that process was fun to me and it was fun to work on. Pizza became a weekly routine. It’s always on my mind.”