Champion Pizza gives back to the community one slice at a time

Champion Pizza’s founder Hakki Akdeniz serves the homeless by donating money and boxes of pizza.

Champion+Pizza+is+a+renowned+New+York+restaurant+with+locations+in+Soho+and+on+5th+Avenue.+Hazzi+Akdeniz%2C+its+founder%2C+wants+to+give+back+to+the+homeless+community+by+donating+money+and+pizza.+%28Photo+by+Kevin+Wu%29

Kevin Wu

Champion Pizza is a renowned New York restaurant with locations in Soho and on 5th Avenue. Hazzi Akdeniz, its founder, wants to give back to the homeless community by donating money and pizza. (Photo by Kevin Wu)

By Juliana Guarracino, Staff Writer

October is National Pizza Month, and no one loves pizza as much as Hakki Akdeniz, founder of Champion Pizza. For him, pizza is more than a meal — it is his passion and his way of giving back to his community.

“All I’ve known in my life is the food business,” Akdeniz said. 

Originally from Turkey, Akdeniz grew up making a thin-crust pastry called lahmajun in a bakery. He started working at a pizza shop in Canada and continued to work with pizza when he came to the United States in 2001. He has spent 28 years in the food industry and now has seven pizza shops across the city. 

“I don’t know how to drive; I know how to make pizza,” he said.

Though Akdeniz eventually achieved his American dream, the journey was not easy. He was homeless for the first few months that he spent in the United States and then moved to The Bowery Mission, a local shelter. 

Now, he wants to give back. 

For ten years, Akdeniz has continued to feed hundreds of homeless individuals on a weekly basis with the help of the PCNY in the Streets. Each week, Akdeniz and his team bring boxes of pizza to local shelters and serve people themselves.

“It’s not about how much I have, it’s about how much I give,” Akdeniz said. “As much as I give back, I always get more blessed.” 

Akdeniz started his journey in community service by giving back to The Bowery Mission. He has now expanded his operations, relying on a team of volunteers to assist various local shelters by donating boxes of pizza and a portion of his sales. 

Akdeniz’s career in making pizzas has long been paired with giving back. After the murder of four homeless people in 2019, Akdeniz attended a memorial dedicated to those who were killed while leaving boxes of pizza for homeless individuals in the neighborhood. He also created a new pizza decorated with gold leaf and caviar in honor of Donald Trump; depending on the ingredients, each pizza cost $5,000-10,000 and the proceeds benefited The Bowery Mission. From the beginning of the pandemic, Akdeniz began donating pizza to frontline workers as well, many of whom were already regulars at his shop. 

“Don’t give to get; give to inspire others to give,” he said. According to Akdeniz, he has donated over two hundred thousand boxes of pizza to the homeless, and he continues to donate to shelters every week.

The restaurant offers a variety of pizza options that accommodate a range of dietary restrictions. (Photo by Kevin Wu)

While Champion Pizza is known for its community service, it is also beloved for its delicious pizza. A regular pie features a thin crust, fresh mozzarella and organic sauce from Italy, and can be square or round. The store offers vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options. Customers at the shop attest to its quality, often thanking and complimenting Akdeniz as they leave.

In addition to making pizza, Akdeniz is also the 2010 winner of the World Pizza Championship, a competition based on pizza making and acrobatics. 

“The championship saved my life,” he said. “It saved my pizza shop.” 

At the time, his shop was only open for four months, so its future seemed uncertain. However, the publicity from his win caused his business to boom. After winning, Azdeniz was put on the cover of PMQ magazine, which he displays in the shop. As children came to the shop to get pizza, they saw his magazine and began calling him “champ.” Soon, the community knew him and his shop respectively as “champ” and “Champion.”

From pizza acrobatics to community service, Champion Pizza has become a staple for New Yorkers or passersby yearning for a taste of comfort. If you are looking for somewhere to celebrate National Pizza Month, stop by Champion Pizza at their 5th Avenue or Soho locations, which are both a short walk from Washington Square Park. As the shop’s slogan promises, it is “made in New York with love.”

Contact Juliana Guarracino at [email protected]