PIZZA! Just hearing the word brings joy to masses of hungry humans the world over.
But when it comes to a slice of cheesy, saucy, carby divinity, smell and taste (not hearing) are the only senses that matter.
At one San Francisco pizza restaurant, that’s the message: We can’t hear you, but our pies are OFF THE CHAIN.
In 2011, deaf pizza enthusiasts Melody and Russ Stein opened Mozzeria, San Francisco’s first and only deaf-owned and deaf-staffed restaurant.
In an interview with Upworthy, Melody Stein shared why they decided to take a big chance by starting a business:
“Being Deaf, I thought it was a far-fetched dream, but thanks to a change of attitudes
and laws, I felt I had the chance. We knew we could deal with businesses and government with more confidence and insist on our rights when needed. When my husband Russell said he would support me, I went for it!”
And so far, business is good.
Since their start, Mozzeria has been honored with a “Recommended” rating by the prestigious Michelin Guide and a People’s Choice Award from Food Truck Wars, a competition of mobile kitchens held each year in Orlando, Florida. And their Peking duck pizza has been recognized as one of San Francisco’s best bites by Zagat.
Why staff a business with up to 95% hearing customers with workers who are all deaf?
That wasn’t always the plan, Melody said, but they came to realize it was their duty:
“When we first opened, we decided to hire some hearing and Deaf employees. … Over time, I felt that
we should be extending opportunities to Deaf people who otherwise experience obstacles in getting opportunities, training, or employment. We thought the time had come to go all-Deaf. We have never regretted this decision.”
It wasn’t easy at first. Take phones, for example not the most accessible tool for the deaf. Fast Company
reported that in its early days, Mozzeria missed half of their phone calls because the technology wasn’t quite there for a deaf-run business.
But online reservation sites, deaf-friendly technology like LED phone signals, and call routing through a sign language interpretive service (which I tested, and save for a mild delay, it works great) are allowing Mozzeria to bring in more customers than ever.
Despite their unique backstory, Mozzeria’s goals are basically the same as other small businesses.
They want to grow. The ever-present challenge to that, says Melody, is “figuring out ways to survive in tough competition and rising costs of doing business in the city.”
All while deaf, of course.
“In our daily lives, we face double standards. We have to educate hearing people about how to work with Deaf … and be patient with us. And this on top of running a business and staying competitive.” Melody Stein
They manage by doing exactly what they set out to do: make damn good pizza.
“Our food is being recognized for its innovation,” says Melody. “San Francisco is known for its diversity, and we want to offer a diverse and interesting food menu.”
Mozzeria’s Hosui pear pizza (left) and Peking duck pizza. Photos by Mozzeria, used with permission.
Opening Mozzeria made Melody a third-generation restauranteur, following in the footsteps of her parents and grandparents, who ran successful Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong. Her heritage is sewn into Mozzeria’s menu with tasty cultural mash-ups like Hosui pear pizza and their aforementioned signature Peking duck pizza.
The best thing about Mozzeria isn’t even their pizza it’s what they represent.
The Steins’ story gained the attention of
Small Business Revolution, a documentary film project that “celebrates the vibrancy, variety and community impact of small businesses across the country.”
Amanda Brinkman, chief brand and communications officer at Deluxe Corp., the creator of Small Business Revolution, told me why they selected Mozzeria:
When we learned more about the work Mozzeria does, both as an acclaimed restaurant and a space for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees to thrive, we knew we had to feature them.
Their success … is a testament to the quality of the food they make, their commitment to the community, and their supportive work environment. They’re really redefining what it means to be successful entrepreneurs.”
Too often, business success comes at the cost of humanity.
The Steins show not only that it doesn’t have to, but also that disability doesn’t have to be as limiting as we sometimes think.
Watch the video profile of Mozzeria by Small Business Revolution: