LivAbility Magazine

Edition 20 | Spring 2020

Half a pizza with a slice removed

A San Francisco pizzeria serving up more than a hot slice

By Kasey Kaler

What is it about food that brings us together?

People of all different cultures, backgrounds, orientations, upbringings, and yes, disabilities can come together and enjoy a meal.

It was Anthony Bourdain who said, “Meals make the society, hold the fabric together in lots of ways that were charming and interesting and intoxicating to me. The perfect meal, or the best meals, occurs in a context that frequently has very little to do with the food itself.”

Commonly, it’s food, and food only, that offers that peace.

And it was former President Barack Obama who wrote this shortly after Bourdain’s death in 2018: “[Bourdain] taught us about food — but more importantly, about its ability to bring us together. To make us a little less afraid of the unknown.”

Food is boundless.

Like the food offered at top-rated San Francisco, California, restaurant Mozzeria, owned by Russell and Melody Stein, who are both Deaf.

This restaurant is something Melody Stein has long dreamed of. You see, she grew up in restaurants. Her parents owned and operated a Chinese establishment in San Francisco.

For Melody Stein, there was only one obvious way forward. And that was to attend the California Culinary Academy and then to open a restaurant of her own.

“I applied in 1993. And because I did go to the California School for the Deaf [K-12], that was on my application, so it was pretty obvious I was Deaf,” Stein said.

When the culinary school called her mother to verify the information, the family was told the academy wouldn’t be able to provide that accommodation.

When her mother pushed them, they indicated that verbal communication was essential in the kitchen, and the safety of Stein and her classmates would be jeopardized.

Two years later, Stein started school at Gallaudet University, a private college for the Deaf and hard of hearing.

It was at Gallaudet that she first met Russell Stein.

“I would have never met him if I hadn’t been turned down by the [California Culinary] school,” Melody Stein said.

While they were dating, she remembers telling Stein about her dream to open a restaurant. He’d never heard of a Deaf-owned restaurant.

It might have taken a little longer than she planned, but she called it.

Mozzeria opened in 2011, offering Neapolitan-style pizza made in an imported Italian wood-burning oven.

The couple — doing their part to ensure that no one is ever denied access the way Melody Stein once was — employs only people who are Deaf to run their pizza place and the two affiliated food trucks.

“Many people have a misconstrued idea that people with disabilities cannot work. They look at us as a burden, as a liability. But we are here to show that we are not,” Melody Stein said.

“We are capable and adaptable.”

The restaurant offers sheets of paper for guests to write orders on and provides resources for patrons who might want to learn a few phrases in sign language, like thank you, pizza, and more, while dining.

Food is a reminder that everyone belongs in some way. The restaurant ensures this. That there is a place for everyone.

Half a pizza

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Kasey Kaler

Kasey Kaler

Kasey Kaler is a graduate of Gonzaga University’s Sport and Athletic Administration M.A. program and Arizona State’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication B.A. program. Kasey has a passion for producing content for a multitude of platforms and sharing stories to help people view differences as an asset.

Read more by Kasey Kaler.