Hakki Akdeniz is a Turkish immigrant-turned New York character who owns Champion Pizza, the famous and awarded pizza place that currently has six stores in New York City and Long Island.
Akdeniz has nearly 29 million Instagram followers, including celebrities like Mike Tyson and Courteney Cox. But not too long ago, he was homeless and desperate on the streets of New York.
The meteoric rise of this pizza man is captured in the new documentary “Hello… I’m Hakki Akdeniz,” which is out on Discovery+. Akdeniz first arrived in America in the winter of 2001, completely by accident.
After unsuccessfully trying to migrate to Canada from his home country, Akdeniz ended up on a bus from Montreal to Port Authority, NYC with only $240 in his pocket, not speaking a word of English and with the promise of a guest bed from a friend – the only person he knew in New York.
“When I got to New York I called my friend and he said, ‘I’m on my way, give me a few hours, I’ll be there, I promise,'” Akdeniz told The Post. “Then a whole day went by and he wasn’t there. I slept on a bench at the bus station because I didn’t want to lose him.”
One day quickly turned into two — the friend ended up ghosting him — and the hopeful Akdeniz was quickly becoming worried for his life in a foreign land. He was alone in the Big Apple with a third-grade education, and nowhere to stay or work. But he started hustling.
Akdeniz was eventually able to save enough money to get his own apartment, and in 2009 he even opened his own pizza place – Hakki Pizza – on the Lower East Side. But times were tough in the city, and the place wasn’t bringing in enough money for Akdeniz to pay the rent for his store and apartment so he left the house and slept on the pizzeria floor.
Within a year, his fortunes began to change. Akdeniz made his name competing in the 2010 World Pizza Championship in Las Vegas, winning awards – and international publicity – for his amazing dough tricks.
The suddenly strong business quickly expanded to another store, then another, and so on, to the point where he owned an actual store in New York City. That is when he decided to rename the business Champion Pizza, a tribute to the title he won in Las Vegas.
In addition to his massive Instagram following, Akdeniz has practically carpeted stores with photos taken with A-Listers like business savvy Barbara Corcoran of Shark Tank, Neil Patrick Harris, and Courteney Cox who recently shot an Instagram video at Champion Pizza.
Akdeniz says he is grateful and honored to have found such a following, but he has never forgotten where he came from. He delivers pizzas to shelters and places like the Bowery Mission every week, and also makes many financial contributions to the cause.
“I know how it feels. I know what it’s like to have nobody, nothing, to be afraid and to be alone in a place that you don’t know, forgotten and invisible,” he said. “Everyone has an obligation to do more.”
Learn more about Hakki Akdeniz and Champion Pizza here.