The deaf couple behind Mozzeria, a celebrated San Francisco pizza restaurant that employs only people who are deaf, will open a second operation next year in Washington, D.C. with help from a venture fund that supports startups addressing social needs.
The new Mozzeria location will sit just seven blocks from the first deaf-run Starbucks signing store, which also provides jobs for the deaf and hard of hearing. Also nearby is Gallaudet University, a renowned school for the deaf and hard of hearing, where Mozzeria owners Melody and Russ Stein met.
The Steins opened the first Mozzeria in December 2011. The San Francisco location also operates two food trucks. When it came time to expand to a new market, the Steins secured an investment of “several million dollars” from the Communication Service for the Deaf Social Venture Fund (CSDSVF). The CSDSVF, according to its website, was created “to invest in deaf-owned businesses that will in turn reap more than financial profit.” Social enterprise businesses that receive the venture fund’s support make money while creating positive social change and providing employment for underserved populations like the deaf.
“It’s been a longtime dream to see a deaf-owned restaurant in Washington, D.C.,” Russ Stein signed in a joint interview with the Washington Post recently.
Diners at Mozzeria place their orders in sign language or by pointing or writing with pen and paper. Both of the Steins are accomplished pizzaioli. For Melody Stein in particular, success as a restaurateur feels especially sweet because she was rejected years ago when she applied to the California Culinary Academy. “[The Academy] called my mom and said we can’t accept her application because she’s deaf,” Stein, 45, signed to The Washington Post. “What if they were in the kitchen trying to yell, ‘Out of the way!’ with hot soup? They viewed me as a liability.”
People with impaired hearing often encounter such obstacles. As the Post reports, there are roughly 30 million Americans with severe hearing loss in both ears. Only 48 percent of deaf people have jobs, compared to 72 percent of the hearing population, at least in part because many employers subscribe to inaccurate stereotypes about deaf people.
“That’s why Mozzeria is so important,” Christopher Soukup, CEO of CSDSVF, told the Post. “The more we can put those success stories out there, brick by brick we can combat that perception.”