Walking through the doors at Mozzeria in the Mission District, guests are greeted with a friendly smile. While not unusual at restaurants in San Francisco, that smile means a lot more as deaf owners Russ and Melody Stein can explain.
The Steins, who celebrated one year in the Mission District late last year, are both deaf and their employees are as well. “Hearing customers have played a big role in the success of our restaurant by sending suggestions and words of encouragement. They were surprised to find that we do play music at the restaurant. I see both communities are blending and becoming comfortable with each other,” Melody said. “We do go the extra mile to make our hearing customers feel welcome, even though they don’t know American Sign Language. We teach them basic signs including Thank You and Pizza.”
The quieter environment is a welcome change from the normal hustle and bustle of restaurants. Mozzeria’s staff works seamlessly together, communicating via sign language. While first-time guests may be taken aback, it quickly becomes a non-factor, even for those who may not know sign language. Orders are quickly taken and service is just as it would be at any other great restaurant. Melody said that support from the deaf community has played a big role in their success as first-time restaurant owners, including from one well-known actress.
“Our deaf community has supported us enthusiastically from day one and we still count on their support. When I called the organizers of the San Francisco Street Food Festival (last year) to participate, we learned that we had missed the deadline. They presented the option of participating in their local forager contest,” she said. “We only had a week to get votes before the contest ended. I remember on the second to last day, we were still in second place and somehow, our tweet got to actress Marlee Matlin (@MarleeMatlin). She retweeted our determination for a booth space to her 240,000 followers, which helped us land in first place!”
While the story behind the restaurant garners a lot of attention, the food at Mozzeria is just as much of the story. The wide variety of pizzas and pastas are terrific and there are also plenty of small plates that are great for sharing. Melody said the menu continues to undergo changes. “We started off with 7 pizzas on the menu and Chef Bryan Baker came aboard in February 2012 with extensive knowledge in modern Italian cuisine. He is an expert in pasta and cheese making. Our menu continues to evolve and we now make everything in-house except for aged cheese,” she said. “We now have 10 pizzas on the menu. We change the menu seasonally and stay true to our mission – serving modern Italian with global flair.”
Stein said they have faced many of the same issues as most first-time restaurateurs, including struggling to find backing from banks for the venture. “They would tell me that restaurants are bad risks.” She said now, it’s satisfying to be able to go back and tell them they’re still around a year later. “Reaching our first anniversary was a milestone and our story has inspired others here, beyond and afar.”
Stein said they were caught off-guard when they received a “Recommended” rating by the Michelin Guide, calling it the highest compliment. And in terms of year two and beyond? “We have many ideas that haven’t been put to use yet and we do plan on incorporating new ideas during the second year. We just added catering in December and we did well. We will continue to build on this service. We continue to fine-tune restaurant operations based on statistics from the first year. And we will continue to make amazing food for you all!”
An amazing couple bringing terrific food and hospitality to San Francisco’s Mission District. Mozzeria is located at 3228 16th Street (at Guerrero).