Deaf couple overcomes obstacles to expand their business

Oct 30, 2014, 6:30 AM | Updated: 4:49 pm
LISTEN: Deaf couple overcomes obstacles to expand their business

PHOENIX — It’s been three years since a San Francisco couple started fulfilling their dreams by opening their own business.

Now the couple is expanding that business, and they aren’t letting anything stand in their way.

Melody Stein and her husband Russell are quite a team.

“My husband was born in New York,” said Melody, through her sign language interpreter Chelsea Lemons. “He grew up eating Italian food. He ate pizza every day of his life. I’m third generation. My grandparents ran a restaurant in Hong Kong and in America. My dream was to run a business as they did one day.”

So they opened their own place, Mozzeria Pizza, in San Francisco’s Mission District. They offer some unique things.

“The Peking Duck is one of them,” Melody said. “It’s roasted and has sauce. A lot of people think ‘Duck on Pizza! That would be terrible!’ But after trying it, they are surprised and delighted.”

They have also expanded their business by taking advantage of the current food truck craze.

Melody and Russell bought a food truck of their own in Florida, and are now driving it back to San Francisco.

They made a stop in Phoenix, where they set up shop and served pizza in the downtown area Wednesday. The food truck looks like a San Francisco trolley car and even has a bell.

But the Steins can’t hear it.

Both of them have been deaf since birth. It runs in the family.

“His parents are deaf, and I have a deaf brother,” Melody said.

Wednesday at the food truck, all of the customers appeared to be able to relate to the Steins. No one was talking out loud, and many were using sign language to communicate.

At their San Francisco restaurant, deaf customers use sign language to place their orders. Other people write their orders on a piece of paper. Even though the restaurant’s complete staff is deaf, they still take orders over the telephone.

“We use a video relay service all of the time at the restaurant,” said Melody. “We get a lot of people calling in and ordering through the phone, and that’s how we interact with them.”

Here’s how the video relay works: A telephone call goes to a person who then uses a video link to relay the order by sign language to a restaurant worker.

Melody said there have been some funny moments when people come in to the restaurant without knowing that all of the employees are deaf.

One delivery man wondered why the place was so quiet. Employees gave him a piece of paper to write on for communication.

“He said ‘Is your boss banning speaking? Are you not allowed to talk at all?'” said Melody. “The workers laughed and wrote to him ‘No, we’re deaf.’ He said, ‘Oh my Gosh! I’m so sorry!'”

Sherri Collins, executive director of the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing said the Steins are a great example that the deaf can accomplish great things.

“We can run a business just like anyone else,” said Collins, who is deaf herself. “But there’s a fear.”

Collins said that fear comes from people who can hear. “They don’t understand us,” she said.

Collins said that the ACDHH is working hard to encourage deaf entrepreneurs.

“We’re doing research on deaf-owned businesses across the United States,” Collins said. “What we want to do is to provide training for those who are interested in owning their own businesses here in Arizona.”

Meanwhile, Melody and Russell are proving that being deaf doesn’t have to be a road block.

“We now have 100 percent staff that are all deaf,” said Melody. “We just want to be able to show deaf people that you can accomplish your dreams.”

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Deaf couple overcomes obstacles to expand their business