San Francisco has some of the best restaurants anywhere – and one of the most unique. Mozzeria, ranked among the top pizza places in the city, is also one of the first to be entirely owned and operated by people who are deaf.
Melody and Russell Stein opened the place in 2011, and it's been a foodie favorite from the start.
Their 900-degree wood-fired oven is the best they could find, and so is every ingredient, from sauce to sausage, to cheese, some of which comes from Italy. "We also make it in-house," said Melody, signing.
"And if that doesn't make you hungry, I don't know what will," added Russell.
And for the customers who show up there night after night, food is only part of the experience. Unlike other restaurants, noise isn't an issue, and neither is communication; pointing at the menu works just fine.
And you can even phone in a take-out order. A glowing green light on the wall signals an incoming call. An operator picks it up, and translates your order in sign language via closed-circuit TV.
But this is about a lot more than serving hungry customers.
Correspondent Tracy Smith asked Melody, "How important is it to you to have an all-deaf staff?"
"Oh, it's very important," she replied. "If a hearing person, say, doesn't work out here, they can find a job tomorrow, no problem, while all the deaf people here have to look for years and still can't find a job. That's when I decided I would have an entirely deaf team, even if they have no work experience."
Melody comes from a restaurant-owning family from Hong Kong, and she met Russell at Gallaudet University. Mozzeria is their first restaurant.
But now they're looking to franchise, with a little financial help from the non-profit Communication Service for the Deaf. It's a good investment, says CSD's Brandi Rarus.
Smith asked her, "What does this place mean to the deaf community?"
"It means a lot," Rarus replied. "People often think that deaf people don't have much to offer, or are less valuable, or less worthy in some ways. And when you come to this place, you see that's not true. It's such a great model for success."
And what a success. Critics, like the San Francisco Chronicle's food editor Paolo Lucchesi, have been kind. "The pizza's great. Neapolitan-style pizza is really hard to get correct. It's so simple, and the simplest things are often the hardest things to do well.
"You can feel the love in the food," said Lucchesi. "And it's just simple, delicious food, the kind of food that you just want on a Wednesday night. And that's kind of, really, what the best restaurants are."
And customers say they feel the love, too.
"It's not just the pizza; I feel I get more out of coming here than just the pizza," said one man. "I think there's just something about the experience that is really meaningful and connecting."
And now, Mozzeria might be coming to you, on a mission to give everyone a piece of the pie.
Smith asked, "What does that do to your heart?"
"It's still hard to believe, but I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world," Russell replied.
For more info:
- Mozzeria, San Francisco
- Communication Service for the Deaf
- Paolo Lucchesi, Food Editor, San Francisco Chronicle
Story produced by John D'Amelio.
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