Russ and Melody Stein

Social Venture Fund Invests in Second Location of Deaf-Owned Mozzeria

Along with their tasty artisanal pies, Mozzeria owners Melody and Russ Stein have become famous for hiring only deaf people and helping combat negative stereotypes.

The deaf couple behind Mozzeria, a celebrated San Francisco pizza store that employs only deaf people, will open a second operation next year in Washington, D.C. with help from a venture fund that supports startups addressing social needs.

The new Mozzeria location will sit just seven blocks from the first deaf-run Starbucks signing store, which also provides jobs for the deaf and hard of hearing. Also nearby is Gallaudet University, a renowned school for the deaf and hard of hearing, where Mozzeria owners Melody and Russ Stein met.

The Steins opened the first Mozzeria in December 2011. The San Francisco location also operates two food trucks. When it came time to expand to a new market, the Steins secured an investment of “several million dollars” from the Communication Service for the Deaf Social Venture Fund (CSDSVF). The CSDSVF, according to its website, was created “to invest in deaf-owned businesses that will in turn reap more than financial profit.” Often termed social enterprises, businesses that receive the venture fund’s support make money while creating positive social change and providing employment for underserved populations like the deaf and hard of hearing.

“It’s been a longtime dream to see a deaf-owned restaurant in Washington, D.C.,” Russ Stein signed in a joint interview with the Washington Post recently.

Diners at Mozzeria place their orders in sign language or by pointing or writing with pen and paper. Both of the Steins are accomplished pizzaioli.

As the Post reports, there are roughly 30 million Americans with severe hearing loss in both ears. Only 48 percent of deaf people have jobs, compared to 72 percent of the hearing population, at least in part because many employers subscribe to inaccurate stereotypes about deaf people.

“That’s why Mozzeria is so important,” Christopher Soukup, CEO of CSDSVF, told the Post. “The more we can put those success stories out there, brick by brick we can combat that perception.”