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Philadelphia pizza lovers pay it forward to homeless, one slice at a time

One young business owner is proving the value of making his hometown a more charitable community, one pizza slice at a time.

Mason Wartman, 27, spent three years in a Wall Street job before he left, burnt out, to open Rosa’s Fresh Pizza in Philadelphia.

One simply needs to step inside to see how Rosa’s differentiates itself from the competition: Colorful Post-it notes cover the walls. Each note represents a free slice of pizza, paid for by customers who donated $1. The homeless can come into Rosa's and exchange one of the Post-its for a free slice.

So far, Rosa’s has given away 9,000 slices.

“On bad days, I wish we didn’t do this. On the good days, you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m really glad I did this,’” Wartman told TODAY’s Sheinelle Jones about running his business. “At the end of the day, we help so many people that I can’t go back.”

Wartman says he didn’t come up with the idea to help the homeless. He simply wanted to provide a place to grab a $1 pizza slice, like the ones he loved in New York. It was his customers, he said, who cooked up the idea of paying it forward, one dollar and slice at a time. Rosa’s serves about 40 homeless customers every day and each patron is recognized like any other paying customer, Wartman said.

Casey, who has been on the streets for six months, said that the pizza place is amazing.

“It's nice to know someone cares,” he said. “You know, it's not something that you're begging from someone else. The fact that it was a gift makes it taste just that much better.”

Of the hundreds of Post-it notes on the walls, each scribbled with a brief message or drawing, one in particular is Wartman’s favorite.

“It’s an angel holding a hot slice of pizza with a little heart inside,” he said.

Wartman said he named his restaurant after his mother, Rose.

“She likes it a lot," he said. "I think she's proud.”

Follow writer Eun Kyung Kim on Twitter.