A Heartwarming Slice of Life: Pizza Made and Served by the Deaf


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.

Mozzeria Aims to Amplify its Mission


There are a lot of pizza joints out there, but nothing like Mozzeria, which is owned, managed and entirely staffed by people who are deaf. Located in San Francisco’s Mission District and open since 2011, it’s been designed with franchising in mind so the concept can be replicated and brought to other cities to help address chronic unemployment and underemployment in America’s deaf community one slice at a time.

Mozzeria first opened in 2011, and its Yelp reviews alone are a revelation. Customers comment on the unique Peking duck pizza and the usuals like ambiance and service, but the best stuff is from those who realize the significance and rarity of this restaurant. It attracts college students learning ASL, deaf people surprised with a visit by family and friends, and countless others who place themselves on a spectrum ranging from “cool” to “humbled.”

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This Neapolitan-style pizzeria—complete with wood-fired, 5000-pound oven—is owned by a Deaf couple, Russ and Melody Stein. He grew up in New York City, where dining out with his Deaf family was frustrating: When waiters would rattle off the daily specials, the Steins would nod politely and just guess at what was being said. So full communication access is a priority at Mozzeria, whose all-Deaf servers sign, write or gesture. And in a nod to Melody’s family, who've owned restaurants in Hong Kong for generations, Mozzeria serves up a signature Peking duck pizza with hoisin sauce, among other memorable creations. Soon, San Francisco won't be the only place to check out these wood-fired wonders: The Steins have started a franchise to give other Deaf people a boost in the restaurant business, so look out for the Mozzeria in Austin (Follow the restaurant's social channels for timing updates.)

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Prepared by an all deaf staff from an awesome truck, this pie was the surprise of the fest. The crust was PERFECTLY crispy without being burnt and I could have chugged a cup of the perfectly balanced tomato sauce. The spice level of the solume was everything I wanted and more and it was that extra zing that put this pizza at the top of the standings.  

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The dining room at Mozzeria is built around the beautiful, 5,000 pound Stefano Ferrara oven which means you get to watch as your Neapolitan pizza is prepared and cooked. In 2016, the restaurant expanded to a mobile food truck and, today, the team is looking to expand as a national franchise. When you eat at any Mozzeria outpost, you get to enjoy one of San Francisco’s best pizzas and support a fully deaf-owned and operated business!

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The wood-fired pizza is “wonderful” at this “terrific” Mission Italian with “unique”, “engaging” service by a mostly deaf staff; visitors say they “value the challenge of communicating fully in a new way” (iPad or pen and pad are available), as well as the “quiet” environs, but the food is why they “keep going back.”

The Biggest Slice from a Most Unique Establishment


In 2011, Mozzeria opened its doors to San Franciscans in search of delicious Neapolitan pizza. Many customers enter Mozzeria without knowing that its owners, Melody and Russ Stein, and staff are all Deaf, and the founders have created innovative methods to ensure that everyone understands one another.

In December 2017, Mozzeria became the first-ever business partner of the Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD) Social Venture Fund, with the goal to expand the brand into the first-ever Deaf-owned franchise. Melody Stein reflects on the successes and challenges of building the successful local pizzeria as they begin their nationwide expansion:

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Melody Stein and her husband Russ co-own and operate Mozzeria, a wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizza restaurant in San Francisco’s Mission District. Since opening in late 2011, the place has become a critical darling with additional catering, delivery, and food truck services.

Also, the Steins and all of their 15 or so employees are deaf. The sad truth is that makes their operation very unique. More than 70% of deaf Americans have trouble gaining full-time employment. So in December 2017, Mozzeria secured backing from a new kind of investor to start franchising.

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I have always dreamed of opening a restaurant.

Both my parents owned restaurants in Hong Kong and San Francisco, so it was natural that I wanted to open a restaurant of my own. I began studying hospitality management, and eventually met my husband, Russ, at Gallaudet University. On our first date, we spent all our time in restaurants and bars, starting with Italian and ending with breakfast at a Greek diner at 2 am.

Little did we know we would end up opening Mozzeria, a Neapolitan-style pizzeria and San Francisco’s first Deaf-owned restaurant, one of just a few in the United States. Russ and I are both Deaf, so it was important for us to create an inclusive experience for all of our guests.

 

Essential guide to San Francisco


Famous for its vintage streetcars, sourdough bread bowls and laid-back vibe, San Francisco is one of the most interesting cities in the United States. Its steep and winding streets are not for the faint-hearted, fortunately you can hop on a streetcar or cable car and simply take in the sights.

For those who are curious to find out more about San Francisco, we’ve created an interactive map to show you around the city! Highlighting some of the city’s top attractions and restaurants, this map provides a comprehensive guide to your visit San Francisco, including the city’s historic streetcar and cable car lines. Hover over the icons to find out more about the restaurants and attractions.