An Englewood native and anti-violence activist has transformed a street corner at 95th and Wood streets into a bright, neighborhood pizza parlor where Chicagoans can snag a slice or train for a future in the restaurant industry. Tamar Manasseh, founder of prominent community nonprofit Mothers/Men Against Senseless Killings (MASK), opened Peace of Pizza last week at 1801 W. 95th Street in Beverly.
Peace of Pizza serves up thin-crust, gluten-free, and deep-dish pizza, wings, and sides like mozzarella sticks and cheddar jalapeño poppers. But the menu isn’t what makes the pizzeria special. After multiple high school closures in Englewood, Manasseh saw that so-called summer vacation was extending well into the fall and young people in the neighborhood had little structure or direction to keep them out of gang activities.
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” Manasseh said.
She set to work creating a neighborhood school out of shipping containers, a mammoth project that requires significantly more funds that she initially realized. She began seeking out ways to raise money, but a chance meeting with Father Gregory Boyle of Los Angeles’s Homeboy Industries — a non-profit touted as the world’s-largest gang intervention, employment, and re-entry program — inspired her to bring job training into the equation.
“We’re hiring anybody who can use the opportunity,” Manasseh said. “People are more likely to work with teens, people who are still learning and open. It’s a lot more difficult for a 25-year-old with no skills and a criminal background to get a job.”
In the midst of opening a restaurant focused on curbing violence and building community, two members of MASK were killed in a drive-by shooting over the weekend, the Sun-Times reported. MASK volunteers typically stand on street corners offering food, counseling, and a friendly presence to residents. Chantell Grant and Andrea Stoudemire doing just that on 75th Street and Stewart Avenue on Friday when bullets sprayed out of a blue SUV. Another person at the scene was grazed by a bullet in the arm.
Though she’s an Englewood native, Manasseh said she chose to open in Beverly because the neighborhood is considered neutral territory without gangs. Her employees can move freely in the area.
“Beverly is a very family oriented, friendly neighborhood where everybody knows each other,” she said. “That’s the kind of place I want to show kids from neighborhoods who don’t see that kind of inclusion and camaraderie. You can take it back to your neighborhood and let it soften you a little bit.”
Manasseh won’t restrict hiring based on where potential workers live. She wants to give people from across Chicago a chance to train. She plans to train employees for three months focusing on skills like time management and workplace etiquette, and then find them permanent employment.
Manasseh originally opened the shop last week, but nearby Metra construction and sidewalk closures forced the shop to temporarily close, Block Club reported. She ultimately lost about $13,000 in inventory and advertising, and received no communications from Metra representatives, according to Manasseh’s daughter Avriel.
Customers can also choose from a sizable selection of sandwiches, including chicken parmesan and Italian beef, as well as classic pasta options like spaghetti and meatballs and chicken Alfredo. The shop offers soft drinks and customers are invited to BYO. The 1,800 square-foot shop offers counter service and four two-top tables. The space is decorated in red and black, and features a wall-size version of the shop’s logo — slices of pizza inside a peace sign — on one wall, Avriel said. She added that they have a lot of plans and hope to eventually switch from counter service and hire servers.
Manasseh is actively seeking partnerships with other employers and believes the business and non-profit communities can make profound change in Chicago through collaboration.
“I think every for-profit business should partner with non-profit so everybody’s not constantly fighting over limited amounts of resources,” she said. “That way, we can do the work that needs to be done to help our city.”
Peace of Pizza is now open in Beverly. Take a look at the menu below.
Peace of Pizza, 1801 W. 95th Street, Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.