From Homeless to Pizza King: The Inspiring Journey of Hakki Akdeniz


Hakki Akdeniz’s story is a true testament to the power of determination, hard work, and passion. Despite facing numerous obstacles, including homelessness and a language barrier, Akdeniz was able to rise to the top of the New York City pizza scene, becoming the owner of Champion Pizza, a popular chain with six locations across the city and Long Island.

Born and raised in Turkey, Akdeniz dreamed of one day opening his own pizzeria. In 2001, he made his way to Canada, hoping to start a new life. But after facing a series of setbacks, including being denied entry into the country, Akdeniz found himself on a bus to New York City with just $240 to his name.

Upon arriving in the city, Akdeniz called a friend who promised him a place to stay. But after waiting for a full day and receiving no response, Akdeniz was left stranded with nowhere to go. With no other options, he slept on a bench at the bus station, braving the bitter February cold.

After several days of wandering the city and sleeping on subway trains, Akdeniz was taken in by the Bowery Mission, a homeless shelter in Manhattan. It was there that he received his first break when a mission staffer helped him secure a job as a dishwasher at a pizzeria in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Despite the long commute from Manhattan to Hoboken and the grueling work, Akdeniz was thrilled to have a job and a chance to start building a life in America. But when he couldn’t afford to pay for a hotel and travel expenses, he found himself homeless once again, sleeping on a park bench by the pizzeria.

It was then that Cumali Kurt, the owner of the pizzeria and a fellow Turkish immigrant, offered Akdeniz a place to stay. Akdeniz was overjoyed to have a roof over his head, but adjusting to life in Kurt’s small apartment was not without its challenges. He struggled with basic tasks like showering and communicating with Kurt’s family, who spoke little English.

Despite these challenges, Akdeniz continued to work hard and save money. In 2009, he was finally able to open his own pizzeria on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which he called Hakki Pizza. But the business was struggling, and Akdeniz soon found himself unable to pay rent for both his storefront and his apartment. With no other options, he made the difficult decision to sleep on the floor of the pizzeria.

For months, Akdeniz slept next to the oven and turned it on at night to keep warm. But he refused to give up on his dream, and in 2010, he competed in the World Pizza Championship in Las Vegas, where he won awards for his unique dough-spinning techniques. The publicity from the competition helped him expand his business, and he eventually rebranded it as Champion Pizza, a tribute to his championship title.

Today, Akdeniz is a well-known figure in the New York City pizza scene, with nearly 29 million followers on Instagram and celebrity fans like Mike Tyson and Courteney Cox. But he hasn’t forgotten his humble beginnings and is committed to using his success to help others. In addition to running his business, Akdeniz is also a motivational speaker and has given talks at Rutgers University and other events, sharing his inspiring story of perseverance and triumph over adversity.

Akdeniz’s story is a reminder that with hard work, passion, and a little bit of luck, anything is possible. His journey from homeless immigrant to successful business owner is a true inspiration, showing that no matter how difficult the road may be, the destination is always worth fighting for.

Forbes Staff

Forbes Staff is an official member of the esteemed Forbes team, dedicated to delivering high-quality content and insightful journalism. With a deep understanding of the industry and a passion for uncovering compelling stories, Forbes Staff brings their expertise to the world of fashion. As a trusted member of the Forbes team, they contribute to the renowned Forbes platform, providing readers with valuable insights into the global fashion landscape.

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