By Angela Norris
A new Greenwood-based restaurant is helping people rebuild their lives – with the love of pizza.
Angie Wilhelmi and her husband, Tom, decided to open Agape Pizza to employ the hard-to-employ homeless as well as others of a job.
The Wilhelmis had been living on the southside of Chicago, where Angie served as a police officer. Tom, meanwhile, had been employed in the mortgage industry. After working for 25 years each, they decided to retire and spent their new free time cooking meals for the homeless and making pizzas for needy families through their home church. While on vacation in 2017, they visited a friend living in Greenwood and attended Greenwood Christian Church on a Sunday. They were introduced to the pastor and congregation members and felt welcomed and comfortable.
“We started praying about (moving to Greenwood),” Tom said.
Tom and Angie returned the following weekend to look at houses. They saw a total of eight before Angie found her dream home. They felt happy about their transition to Greenwood.
A servant’s heart with a love for Italian
Right after Christmas, the couple asked staff and members of the congregation if they knew of any homeless camps where they could help. The Wilhelmis were introduced to Brian Walls, Founder and Director of Tear Down the Walls Ministries, a non-profit organization based in Indianapolis. Tom met with Walls; the men realized that they had similar backgrounds and immediately clicked. They came to an agreement that Angie and Tom would serve twice a month, giving free 12-inch pizzas, ziti, lasagna and other hot dinners to the people at Tear Down the Walls.
“We were feeding 50-100 people every other Saturday,” Tom said. It was then they decided they were in dire need of an industrial dough mixer and roller, as the workload became tough. They went to an auction and bought lots of used equipment and were now able to make more pizzas for the church and mission than ever. The only thing they asked for was a donation to be made to Tear Down the Walls Ministries. With a lot of praying, and a lot of encouragement from the community and church, they decided to start looking for a building to run a pizza shop.
They heard about a building in a Greenwood Park Mall parking lot that used to house a Papa John’s pizza franchise. The Wilhelmis called Simon Malls to find out how much the building would cost. A few days later, they went back to the mall and offered half of what was asked for a year lease for the building, and Simon accepted the offer. They moved in, did some renovations, and turned it into what is now Agape Pizza.
“Working here has changed my life in many ways,” said employee Chris Weeks. “First off, it’s given me a chance to give back. It showed me that all you have to do is pull yourself up and say, ‘I can do this,’ and it gives me confidence to keep going from there.
“It’s all through God. If you don’t go to God first, you’re gonna hit your head against a brick wall. It gives me a chance to use the skills I learned through the culinary training. I like being a part of something that helps keep people off of the streets.”
Weeks received culinary training through the Indianapolis-based social services organization Second Helpings as well as CPR and first aid training. He also learned about the business aspects side, including food temperature control and rules and regulations. Weeks lives at Tear Down the Walls. The Wilhelmis will help him and other employees get back and forth to work with bus passes and rides to and from work on Sundays. The employees get a 12-inch pizza to take with them after their shift, so they always have a hot dinner.
The employees are not required to wear uniforms so that they can get ready for work easier, as some are homeless.
“These are all ways that help in a big way when you’re down and out.” Tom said. “We all live in these wonderful homes and have all this transportation. Angie and I try to live as modestly as possible so we can do more for God. We have one car that we share. And that’s how we want it.”
For more information, visit agapepizza.com.
Why did you decide to open this business?
To help give back to the people.
What did you do to prepare for opening your business?
A lot of praying.
Who is your ideal customer?
We have regulars who come in once a week, and we love them. I also love when someone comes in for the first time and tries the pizza. They will open up the box before they leave and their eyes get big and they’re like, “Whoa! This looks good!” And then we do see them again. Someone that is happy with their pizza.
How do you plan to be successful?
A lot of prayer, and not losing sight of why we opened and who we’re doing it for.
What would people be surprised to learn about your business?
They’re usually shocked at how much we give. That we’re not in it for the money or for us, that there is a bigger plan.
How would you describe your atmosphere?
I really hope it’s fun and we want it to be.
Agape Pizza • 1201 Greenwood Park E. Dr., Greenwood, IN 46142 • (317) 893-5117
Tuesday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. • Monday: closed