Mission District pizzeria and mobile pizza truck operation Mozzeria doesn’t just make exemplary Neapolitan-style pies. As a fully deaf-owned and operated business, it offers a powerful and all-too-uncommon example of deaf employment possibilities. Today, the nonprofit Communication Service for the Deaf recognized Mozzeria’s success, announcing major investment (the amount hasn’t been disclosed) in the Mozzeria business.
The investment comes from the CSD’s Social Venture Fund, which seeks to address the major underemployment of deaf people worldwide: Deaf Americans are 70 percent unemployed or underemployed. With the funds, Mozzeria will expand its brand, becoming the first-of-its-kind deaf-run restaurant franchise, developing training materials in American Sign Language.
Mozzeria owners Melody and Russ Stein opened their business on 16th Street (between Guerrero and Dolores) in 2011. The couple met at Gallaudet University, a private university for the deaf in Washington, D.C. Melody was born in Hong Kong, and her parents owned restaurants in San Francisco and Hong Kong while Russ is a New York expat and, as a result, a natural-born pizza enthusiast.
On one hand, their restaurant is highly traditional: It’s a member of the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana, an international organization certifying Neapolitan pizzerias. On the other hand, it’s groundbreaking, and not just by virtue of Melody Stein’s favorite pizza on the Mozzeria menu, with peking duck, hoisin sauce, and spring onion. Mozzeria is one of a handful of businesses in the US that’s owned and operated by deaf people, and as a public-facing one, it gives diners the opportunity to interact with deaf servers and learn American Sign Language from the menu to place their order.
Melody and Jeff’s proposal to the CSD won out over about 50 others to score the Social Venture Fund partnership. According to the Steins, they got the idea to franchise after meeting so many deaf visitors from outside the Bay Area interested in similar businesses in their own hometowns. Stay tuned for Mozzeria news as the business expands.