The Myth of Being an Overnight Success

The path to success in business isn’t as much of a steady line as many brave entrepreneurs and ambitious business owners may originally think. The myth of the “overnight” success is just that — a myth. “Overnight” success stories begin years ahead of time and the “overnight” part comes with a break through after years of fine tuning and often opportune timing or luck. This couldn’t ring more true for New York pizza chain owner, Hakki Akdeniz who was recently featured in the New York Times — he went from being homeless to distributing free pizzas to homeless communities.

Akdeniz recently made headlines when he brought hot pizzas from Champion Pizza to the memorial sites where the lives of four homeless men were taken in New York City. The note he left read, “I wish with all my heart that I could have been there at that very moment to protect all of you guys.” Their deaths struck a chord with him as he revealed in the note that he too was once homeless.

Now Akdeniz has seven pizza joints, international success, and over 3.6 million Instagram followers at the age of 39, but his journey to success was riddled with hardship, grit and tenacity “… even in a city built on rags-to-riches tales.”

His story begins in Turkey. He emigrated to Canada and then to NYC on the promise of a place to live. When that fell through, he found himself living in Grand Central Terminal before he was told about Browery Mission, a homeless shelter.

For 96 nights he lived there before a woman told him about a job opening in a Mediterranean pizza place in New Jersey. He showed up dirty and unclean but offered to make pizza as his job interview.

He failed.

Multiple times.

Undeterred, he took the dishwashing job instead. He slept across the street on a bench and in the basement of the restaurant. He eventually moved into the boiler room of an apartment complex, doing odd jobs in the complex as an exchange for rent.

Akdeniz scrimped and saved and worked his way to becoming a dishwasher at a pizza place in Hell’s Kitchen. As luck would have it, one night, the regular pizza chef never showed up, and Akdeniz was promoted right then and there.

He honed his pizza-making skills for 5 years, and then he bought a small pizza shop that was for sale. You would think that he was on the path to success at this point? Yet he still had hurdles to overcome.

Faced with not being able to make rent, he entered a pizza making contest. Akdeniz knew he had to stand out from the competition, so he added some theatrics by spinning pizza dough that he had set on fire.

He marketed himself by handing out pizzas along with his winning write-up from PMQ Pizza Magazine at schools. This garnered him the nickname “champ” and this is how Champion Pizza chain was born.

As he grew his pizza empire one store at a time, Akdeniz never forgot the time he spent in the homeless community. He began handing out slices of free pizza to those in need who came to his store asking for help. This lead to a weekly occurrence of handing out food and clothing on a portion of West 34th Street where he became known as “the pizza guy.”

Even though he is busy and opening more stores, Akdeniz never stops fine-tuning his skills and ingredients in the pursuit of continued success.

Akdeniz’s story is a metaphor for how a small business often operates on the path to success. When he at first didn’t succeed, he adapted and persisted. He changed and sought innovative ways to perfect his craft and stand out from the competition. He self marketed and strategically targeted an audience. And he looked at setbacks as an opportunity to carve out a niche.

It takes a certain kind of person to be adventurous enough to have their own business and to determine their own fate like Akdeniz did. We commend you in your own pursuits and successes. And, we appreciate you for your business!

Read more about Akdeniz’s story at