Canadian Pizza Magazine

Pizza Community Week: Delivering pizza with purpose

Laura Aiken   

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In 2009 we introduced the Pizza with Purpose award to honour charity driven pizzerias and highlight some of the unique and wonderful ways our readers are giving back.

Naheed Shariff, the first recipient of the award, presented by Saputo Dairy Products Canada, proves you can be more than just a place to eat in your community.

Saputo Dairy Products Canada presented Naheed Shariff and family with its Pizza with Purpose award. From left to right:  Nash Shariff, Samira Shariff, Glenda Taylor (manager of national food service trade marketing for Saputo), Naheed Shariff, John Mancini (Edmonton branch manager for Saputo) and Faisel Shariff.


Shariff is part of a family-owned group of four Boston Pizza franchises in Edmonton. His parents, Samira and Nash, who built up the business, along with his brother Faisel, all have hands-on roles in the franchises and can be found busing tables side by side with their staff. With about 28 Boston Pizza locations in the Edmonton market, the Shariffs show leadership in their community that helps them differentiate themselves, he says. It’s also made them stand out with head office. On April 22, the Shariff family was presented with the Boston Pizza Foundation award to recognize their dedication to their community.


Shariff’s year of delivering pizza with purpose included a long-standing commitment to the Kids with Cancer Society. For five years, they have been delivering pizza to kids with cancer and their families on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“The kids are just salivating,” says Shariff. “It’s not great food in the hospital and it’s an escape where they can remember what it was like to be out having fun with their friends.”

The Shariffs raised $57,000 for Kids with Cancer by selling bracelets and paper teddy bears, surpassing their $50,000 goal. They also assisted in turning a former bed-and-breakfast into a house across from the Stollery Hospital where kids get their chemo treatment. The house, the first of its kind in Canada, is being used by out of town patients and their families as a “rest stop.” The Shariffs donated towards furnishing the entire upper floor with toys, sitting areas, a library and playrooms filled with pictures of cancer survivors.

In his Pizza with Purpose entry, Shariff recounts a particularly ironic twist in his family’s fate. The day of the ribbon cutting for the house they helped to open, his brother Faisel sat on a bench with a girl that was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, which is very rare and deadly. There is only a 45 per cent success rate if the cancer is removed and the patient is treated with chemotherapy. His brother learned that she lost a limb to amputation three years ago but was in great spirits, talking about her life free of cancer. While reminiscing about her chemo days, she fondly remembered the Tuesdays and Thursdays she felt like she was at a party. She said she felt like she was out at Boston Pizza, and even though the treatment had caused her taste buds to diminish, she loved the fact that this pizza party was being shared with her family. Touched, Faisel told Shariff their family needed to continue doing everything they can to support this cause – especially the pizza days – no matter what.

On Dec. 24, 2009, Faisel was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, the very same cancer that had afflicted the girl who had touched his heart that day. He had part of his leg amputated on Jan. 16 and has started chemotherapy, but his own long battle lies ahead.

To acknowledge the doctors involved in Faisel’s treatment, the family bought a table for them at the Kids with Cancer Gala. Boston Pizza International bought a table as well to support him and donated $10,000 on behalf of Faisel. Shariff says the support of head office in acknowledging the efforts of their franchisees has been a great motivator to keep looking or opportunities to help out the community.

Giving is contagious. Shariff’s eight-year-old daughter opted on her own to donate all of her birthday presents last year to Kids with Cancer. The family made a point of showing their staff where the money for Kids with Cancer was going by introducing them to some of the patients. This prompted the staff to voluntarily donate their tips on a Friday.

The sense of generosity has also helped form the basis for good employee retention. Naheed says he has one kitchen manager that passed the 25-year mark. His father also helped the business grow by using his trade as an accountant to aid employees with their investment decisions, fostering a sense of goodwill and morale in the staff.

It’s important to make it fun and engage your staff. Not all of Shariff’s initiatives are fundraising; some are simply to build community. For example, the Shariffs host an annual Cardboard Classic, a sledding competition where contestants build their own sled out of cardboard. They draw up criteria, have different categories and give out prizes. The sense of humour is evident in the promotional material. Contestants are advised to build a homemade sled of epic proportions, and one of the judging criteria is sheer awesomeness. These types of fun events build morale in the community, as well as lead to recruiting people who assist in the fundraising campaigns, says Shariff.

And there is no shortage of opportunities to get your product into the people’s hands – a great way to grow your customer base. “Go out and get the food into people’s mouths,” says Shariff. “Donate it.” The campaigns have garnered the Shariffs considerable media attention, with Citytv and Global spending time at their locations, as well as city newspaper and radio coverage.

Shariff spearheaded organizing all of the Boston Pizzas in Edmonton to provide free lunch as a group at a walk/relay for Kids with Cancer. Rather than pitch the leftover pizza, Shariff ensured they made their way to a hospital emergency ward and a women’s shelter, among other places. “We got calls from the emergency ward the next day. It was the busiest night of the week and the staff were beside themselves with appreciation.”

On another occasion, there was a major fire in Edmonton and the Shariffs provided food to displaced people for three weeks. During a cold spell, Shariff had blankets logoed and took them, along with coffee, to homeless people.

Creative thoughtfulness goes a long way in making a difference in the lives of people in your community.

“You need to create those urban legends. Have a slush fund so when people in the community need you, you can be there. Money is good, business is great, but it’s all about paying it forward.”

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