A San Fransisco Pizzeria Is Providing Work and Comfort For the Deaf Community

Melody Stein and her husband Russ opened the restaurant in 2011, and plan to expand soon.

A Slice of Life - mozzeria pizza
Dyan Sue

Regulars at the San Francisco Neapolitan pizzeria Mozzeria know that the best way to order the restaurant’s famous wood-fired pie is by signing for it in American Sign Language.

That’s because everyone who works there is deaf. Opened in 2011 by Melody and Russ Stein, Mozzeria is the city’s first Deaf-owned and -operated restaurant. Although most of its customers are hearing, the restaurant has also become a gathering place for the Deaf community. "I understand how Deaf people feel about not having access," says Melody, who was born in Hong Kong without the ability to hear. "I wanted our restaurant to be the place where everyone is welcome and feels comfortable."

As the descendant of a long line of restaurateurs, Melody knew she would open a place of her own one day. As she and her husband considered ways to fuse her Chinese roots with his love of Italian food, they landed on the idea for Mozzeria, a classic pizzeria that uses Asian foods and flavors, like Peking duck, in its dishes.

But the journey to their grand opening as Deaf restaurateurs wasn’t easy. Banks told them restaurants were "high risk" and turned them down for a small-business loan. Government agencies and vendors weren’t equipped to communicate with the Steins, and a hearing person in line would get information quickly while they would have to make another appointment and come back.

A Slice Of Life
Mozzeria uses Asian foods and flavors in its dishes.
Mozzeria

"I spent more time explaining how to work with me than asking for what I needed," Melody says.

After seeing firsthand how difficult it was for people with disabilities to start a business, Melody and Russ, who is also deaf, decided to pave the way for other Deaf professionals. The couple commissioned an all-Deaf team to design, build, and decorate their restaurant, including kitchen and bathroom tiling as well as custom-made tables and bar shelves. "I beam with pride when I tell customers that Deaf people did the work," says Melody.

Melody also prioritized hiring Deaf people, many of whom often face underemployment and unemployment, to work at the restaurant.

To order, most guests either point to what they want on their menus or write it down on the paper provided at each table, but many of the regulars have learned the hand signs for their favorites.

Now, Melody and Russ have partnered with Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD), a nonprofit that supports businesses that hire Deaf people, and have plans to open another location. "We have the same mission," Melody says of CSD. "To create more job opportunities for our Deaf community."

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