In celebration of Immigrant Heritage Month, we want to highlight immigrants in our community to strengthen our connections and understanding between the stories of today and the personal family stories of the past that we tell at the Tenement Museum.
Hakki Akdeniz is a Turkish immigrant and owner of the award-winning Champion Pizza, our neighbor here on the Lower East Side. Before achieving success, however, Akdeniz experienced many of the hardships immigrants face, past and present, and now he is using his experience to champion (pun intended) the people in his neighborhood, particularly those experiencing homelessness.
Akdeniz was born in 1984 in a small village in southeast Turkey and immigrated to Canada as a teenager to work at his brother’s pizzeria in Montreal. There he learned how to make pizza and run a business, and eventually made the decision to move to New York to start his own restaurant. He arrived at the age of 21, speaking very little English, and with only $240 in his pocket. After an opportunity fell through and his money ran out, he ended up sleeping in Grand Central Terminal before moving into the Bowery Mission homeless shelter.