Philly Faces: Ben Berman

Ben Berman makes a pizza. | Photo courtesy of Good Pizza

In 2021, the most exclusive pizzas in Philadelphia aren’t being baked at Tacconelli’s, Pizzeria Beddia or any of the other usual suspects.

The hottest pies in town are coming from Good Pizza, a nonprofit endeavor run by 27-year-old Wharton student Ben Berman, who’s baking pizzas and delivering them to hungry locals by lowering them via a box and some string out of his Center City apartment window. Good Pizza routinely holds lotteries with hundreds of entrants vying for one of 40 monthly pies.

Requesting that all pizza recipients consider making a donation as the only condition for receiving a pie, Berman has raised $30,000 for local organizations like Philabundance and Project HOME.

Ben Berman lowers a pizza from his Center City window. | Photo courtesy of Good Pizza

Berman, a native of Portland, Maine, has long melded his love for cooking with an entrepreneurial spirit — he ran a food truck company in high school, slinging burgers, sandwiches and sides. During the pandemic, a little bored, he started making pizzas for his friends. Finding that he could barely keep up with demand, he realized he had much more than flour and sauce on his hands: He had a chance to help some people when need was growing every day.

Why do you think baking has gotten so popular during the pandemic? Is it just the extra time people have, or is there something about baking that is more attractive in the pandemic context?
It’s more of the latter. Baking and, for me, pizza, was this fun challenge to solve. And there’s so many variables that go into it.

Whether or not you’re thinking about it as a scientific endeavor, there are all these different levers that you can pull to change the thing that you’re creating, and there’s something so fantastic about putting together just a few ingredients, and then giving it some sort of time. And so pizza, from the beginning, was this really fun challenge to try to figure out how to take very few ingredients and make something really delicious out of it.

And the spirit of baking for the last year is actually fairly similar. It is extremely approachable, and yet never something that you will be able to master. And even the bad versions of it turn out pretty good.

Is there a connection between the work you’re doing now and being Jewish?
One, my family gatherings that I talk about, so many of those are Jewish holidays with my family and food being a central piece of that. That’s a story for so many Jewish American families in particular, for food to be a central piece of gathering and family and love and fond memories. And so that’s a big piece of it. My Jewish heritage made me more conscious of the power that food can have in gathering people, telling a story, showing your love, et cetera.

The other piece of it is that my Jewish upbringing taught me a lot about giving back to the community. And, you know, when I think about, like, level of tzedakah, I am cognizant of the fact that, in some ways, this endeavor has to be slightly self-serving because I have to get the word out. So I’m conscious of the fact that I’m slightly comfortable with being at the center of all this. But it also felt natural for me, for my upbringing, from a faith perspective, from what my parents have taught me, to, when I am able, to give back to the community in some way. And this was just my form of being able to do that during a really hard year.

What’s the next pizza innovation for you in 2021?
For now, I just want to make as much as much pizza as I can. My goal is just that everyone who’s been signing up for these lotteries — and it blows my mind to see 900 people sign up for a pizza lottery every week — I just want to keep making pizza until everyone has had a chance to try it.

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