Building community helps South Phoenix business succeed
Pepi’s Pizza owner Mark Messner has embraced South Phoenix for the past 16 years. And the community has embraced him right back. Pepi’s Pizza continues to thrive, despite the arrival of seven new pizza establishments within 2.5 miles during the past year.
“The face of South Phoenix is changing rapidly with new developments and businesses. Competition is fierce, so you’ve got to have customer loyalty,” says Messner, a Phoenix resident for 41 years. But, Messner is not only a business owner, he has become a mentor, a donor, a role model and a huge community supporter in the South Phoenix area.
“Mark really epitomizes the spirit of leadership,” says Steve Glueck, chairman elect, South Mountain/Laveen Chamber, a chapter of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce. “A good community doesn’t happen by accident and Mark’s been mentoring kids, contributing generously of his time and products, and putting others first for years.”
Messner has sponsored more than 100 community youth sports teams, ranging from Pop Warner football to Little League baseball, as well as numerous high school and college athletic programs.
Messner also provides 27 local elementary schools with certificates redeemable for game tokens after students read a designated number of hours. More than 1 million game tokens have been provided through this partnership with school literacy programs.
Additionally, he has donated more than 250,000 certificates good for a free small pizza. The certificates are given to elementary students for achievements such as perfect attendance and making the honor roll.
“We try to be a hub for the neighborhood and community,” explains Messner, who speaks at school career days about restaurant opportunities and works 5.5 days a week. “I want to make sure every kid gets a ride on the merry-go-round and a balloon,” he explains.
Pepi’s Pizza also hosts fund-raising pizza party events, with $2 of every meal served donated to a local school. And, Messner tries to attend at least one PTO meeting annually at each area school. He recalls one such meeting at a new elementary school, where other attendees had never heard of a business showing up for a PTO meeting.
But it’s all worth it, the modest Messner quickly adds. He tells of a young woman, whom he hadn’t seen in 12 years, who recently paid him a visit. Now a successful computer programmer, she went out of her way to thank him for the valuable lessons and encouragement she received while working at Pepi’s Pizza years ago.
“One of the reasons I do what I do is my employees,” says Messner, who employs about 20 local high school students at any given time and has provided jobs for 1,500 students over the years. Some, he says, come from less-than-desirable family situations and living environments. Many are young teens who already are parents and are trying to finish school.
“For at least four or five hours a day, they can be part of something good and learn good work habits and have a good meal,” says Messner. “I get a chance to work with them and make them feel like someone for a few hours. They may be 16 or 17 now, but they are the leaders in the future.”