Web Exclusive | August 2017 | By Danny Klein

After Harvey, Chain Hopes to Feed Thousands

Urban Bricks Pizza gave away more than 700 pies to Corpus Christi residents affected by the storm. Next stop: Houston.
Urban Bricks Pizza served more than 700 free pizzas on Monday. Urban Bricks Pizza
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Sammy Aldeeb wouldn’t miss it for the world. Because, of course, who wouldn’t want to prep pizza for 10-plus hours on a Sunday night?

But the founder of 12-unit Urban Bricks Pizza and his cobbled-together team had a clock to beat. Come morning, a swarm of residents in Corpus Christi, Texas, would drive, walk—do whatever they could—to get to the restaurant.

Starting at 11 a.m. and going until the pantry went dry, Urban Bricks handed out free pizzas to anybody affected by Hurricane Harvey.

The team served more than 700 pies and delivered 200-plus to first responders. Deliveries were made by everybody from franchisees to local citizens, and extended as far as 30–40 minutes from the store.

“People were not only happy leaving the house, but for them to actually have a hot meal, it was amazing. They kept coming in and thanking us,” Aldeeb says. “That was great. It was a really great feeling.”

The plan took shape Saturday as the record-breaking storm pummeled the area. Aldeeb flipped on the restaurant’s camera to check if it had electricity. It did. Quickly, he sent an email to franchisee partners, asking for help, and the responses came in a flurry.

Then came the next question: Could they staff it?

“We actually had to turn people away,” Aldeeb says, adding that many employees even offered to work for free. “We had to go ahead and say, ‘No, sorry, we’re not taking any more volunteers.' Frankly, we didn’t need to. We had more people wanting to help out than we could make room for.”

It started with a small brigade of about a dozen cars and two trucks taking stock in San Antonio, home to the chain’s headquarters. Aldeeb and franchisee partners drove to nearby units and loaded up on supplies. They packed ice chests, hit the gas, and started motoring down the highway into Corpus Christi, which as of Monday evening, still had more than 145,000 people without power.

“The store went from empty to over 700–800 dough balls made. We ran out of flour. We didn’t have any more boxes of tomatoes. No more romaine. All the meats were gone. We prepped everything,” he says. “We had about 10 people between employees and franchisee partners who put on an apron, went into the back, and started working. “

Typically, an Urban Bricks needs eight people behind the line during a shift. On Monday, there were 24 making pizzas and feeding a trail of guests that snaked around the store and never seemed to get any shorter, Aldeeb says.

Amazingly, Urban Bricks spread the word through a Facebook post. Once featured, it generated more than 700 shares and close to 500 interactions from visitors to the page, which has 5,700 or so likes.

“The power of social media. It just happened,” Aldeeb says.

Aldeeb was in the store all day and came away touched by what he saw. Aside from watching his company’s culture in action, he handed pizzas to children who hadn’t eaten in more than a day. People who yanked on workers’ shirts to say thank you and ask if they could jump across the table and help out.

“We all kind of got together and said everything we hear in the media in terms of race and hate, we just don’t see it. We didn’t see it. When it came down to the wire, we did not see it,” he says. “We saw nothing but helpful people, all the way from a 16-year-old kid that wanted to volunteer and help out to our franchisee partners who wanted to not only donate their time but their supplies.”

On the way back to San Antonio, he says emotional team members already started plotting their next step. “The moment we don’t have to swim to our stores we’re going to open up and do it all over again,” Aldeeb says of the Houston market.

If everything goes accordingly, he believes Urban Bricks could open its Houston location Saturday and start the process anew.

“I know we gave away 700 pizzas in Corpus,” he says. “I’m hoping we do 7,000 this time.”