Pitza 42 cofounder Ashton Samuelson discusses fighting childhood hunger

Anita Jones-Mueller, M.P.H., president and founder of Healthy Dining, a nutrition-related marketing and consulting firm, interviews Ashton Samuelson, Owner of Pitza 42 (Pitza For Two), on how the single-unit brand is helping to combat childhood hunger. This interview and others can be seen at Healthy Dining’s Restaurant Nutrition News & Insights [3].

I’m so interested in how your new concept, Pitza 42 [7], (Pitza For Two), with just one location in Conway, Ark., has already made a huge impact on childhood hunger — worldwide — and in less than one year. The meal counter on your website shows that Pitza 42 and your guests have contributed funds for 159,385 meals for children starving in third world countries. Tell us about how you have been able to do that with a brand-new concept.

We want to make a real impact on world hunger with Pitza 42. Childhood starvation and malnutrition are such serious problems. When I heard that more than 18,000 children die each day of starvation and that this devastating problem can be ended by just getting the food to the children who need it, my husband and I decided we wanted to start a business that could really help to save the lives of these children.

Our strategy at Pitza 42 is simple; with every meal that is sold in our restaurant, in turn, we donate money to purchase one meal for a child through the Feed My Starving Children [8] organization. And it only takes $0.22 to feed one child for a whole day through this program. We have an exciting opportunity to end childhood hunger."

Pitza 42 cofounders

I watched the video on your website. It is really powerful. Just $0.22 a day makes a difference?

Yes, when Austin and I decided to start a restaurant to help end childhood starvation, we did a lot of research to find an organization to partner with. We were so impressed with the Feed My Starving Children organization. They are based in Minneapolis, Minn., and 92 percent of the funds they raise go directly to the food costs and the distribution of the meals.

Last year, they helped feed more than 130 million children in 67 countries throughout the world. Children and adult volunteers help to hand-pack the meals, which are specifically formulated for malnourished children. Then they are shipped to qualified orphanages, churches and organizations for distribution to the children.

Most of these children have just this one meal every day. But because the meals are nutrient packed, they can live off of just one meal per day. Sometimes it can take a child five to seven months to build up his or her health after being at a starvation level for so long.

Saucy Clucker saladCan other restaurants join in on this cause?

That would be great. Austin and I are hoping to grow our concept so that we have more restaurants donating more money for meals. But that will take a while, and children are dying every day from starvation, so it is really an urgent need. Anyone wanting more information can contact me at [email protected] [9] or the Feed My Starving Children [8] organization.

How did you decide to open up a restaurant to help you with this cause?

Austin and I both really love food. Food is a big part of our lives. In fact, I think I have loved food since I was born. As a child, I watched The Food Network instead of The Cartoon Network.

After college, we moved to Los Angeles where Austin found a job in commercial real estate and I taught first grade. During that time, we really fell in love with the restaurants and food in Los Angeles. It’s different from here in Arkansas — many healthier options — and I have always been interested in nutrition.

While in Los Angeles, I started making pizzas with pita bread and sending them with Austin for his lunch. I was always trying new ingredients, so my pizzas were pretty creative. And then his co-workers all started sending orders home with Austin, and so pretty soon I was making a lot of pita pizzas! And that is where our inspiration for Pitza 42 started.

What are some of your best sellers?

Our ‘Saucy Clucker’ is by far our best seller. It is chopped barbequed chicken with red onion and Gouda cheese. And it is Healthy Dining-approved and featured on HealthyDiningFinder.com [10].

We just started serving our new Hawaiian Ono pitza, which has a pineapple cream sauce with mozzarella cheese, Canadian bacon, bacon, and is topped with toasted coconut. It is the ultimate sweet and salty — truly original.

Sound delicious but not Healthy Dining-approved. One of your mottos is “Eat Good,” and you have several ways of supporting healthful eating at Pitza 42.

Yes, I really believe that eating good is eating healthy. All of our pitzas are served on our handmade, personal-sized pitas. We offer whole-grain wheat pitas, which are high in fiber and protein. Our pitas have no preservatives, additives or chemicals. All of our sauces have no added sugars, colors or butter. We use part skim mozzarella, so you can have your cheese and eat it too, as I like to say. We serve a lot of salads with fresh fruits and veggies. And we like to add fruits and veggies to our pitzas too.

Sounds like your first year in business is a big success. Would you say most of your guests come to your restaurants to support your cause or because they like the health benefits or they just like the pitzas?

I think the No. 1 reason is the overall experience at Pitza 42. People feel really good when they leave. They ‘Eat Good’ and they ‘Do Good,’ and that’s a good feeling. We hire college students, and they really care about our hunger cause, so they go above and beyond for our guests. And that shows that we really care about our customers.

I’m looking at your page on HealthyDiningFinder [11], and you have so many great choices, Southwest Chicken Salad, Skinny Little Greek Salad, Edgy Veggie, Taco Libre, and Pollo Loco. I hope to get to Conway to try these. And I hope you get back to Los Angeles to open a Pitza 42 there, too. Thanks, Ashton, and best wishes in your very admirable efforts in raising funds to help end childhood hunger.