Melody Stein on Mozzeria’s Rise & Letting the Food Speak for Itself
When you visit Mozzeria in the Mission District of San Francisco, you will notice three striking characteristics of this stylishly modern pizzeria. First, you will be struck by the large, 5,000-pound Ferrara wood-fired oven right in the center of the restaurant. As you sit down to order, you will notice something else: your charming waiter, like all the employees at this pizzeria, is deaf. When your margherita pizza arrives at your table and you have the first bite, you will experience the third take-home characteristic of this San Francisco pizzeria: they make really good pizza.
How it All Began
This past month, Gi.Metal had the privilege of sitting down for an interview with Melody Stein, co-founder of Mozzeria. Melody Stein’s culinary beginnings started when she was young, long before opening Mozzeria with her husband, Russell Stein. She was born into a family of restaurant owners in Hong Kong, and her family opened a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco after they moved to the city when Melody was six years old.
Melody has always dreamed of owning a restaurant of her own, and her diehard pizza-loving husband made sure it would be a pizzeria. Melody took several minutes to explain how much her husband loved pizza, sharing that “he ate pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner, literally.”
Melody recounted how she traveled to Sorrento, Italy to take private pizza-making lessons to learn the proper technique to craft Neapolitan pizza. Melody is deaf, so she brought along her mother to help with English to ASL translation. She described how she practiced for many weeks after her Italian expedition cooking pizzas for friends and family, even building a wood-fired oven in the backyard of her home.
Finally, after months of preparation, Melody and her husband took the big leap and opened Mozzeria in 2011.
The Rise of Mozzeria
When Melody started hiring both hearing and deaf people to work at Mozzeria, she received countless calls and emails from deaf people expressing their wish to work. When all positions were filled, deaf people continued to share their struggles to find employment elsewhere. They wanted to work at a place without communication barriers. That was when Melody and Russ decided to employ an all-deaf team and provide new workers training as many of them had never worked before.
Exposure and demand steadily grew for Mozzeria. So much so that Melody and her husband invested in two food trucks to bring their delicious pizza to more people in the Bay Area.
Today, Mozzeria hires exclusively deaf employees and the Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD) Social Venture Fund has become a co-owner of the Mozzeria brand. They currently employ twenty people, sixteen in the restaurant and four in the corporate office. Moreover, they are planning to expand, opening eight to twelve locations across the U.S. The first new location, in Washington D.C., will open in the spring of 2020
Let The Food Speak for Itself
At the end of our interview, Melody shared about headlines that primarily define Mozzeria as being deaf-owned. She wished that more people would talk about the experience Mozzeria workers bring to customers and what they bring to food. For example, a little known fact is that every Mozzeria employee—waiters, bussers, hostesses, kitchen staff—must first learn how to make the pizza when they are hired.
Melody also described how she and her husband had decided early on to remain within certain traditional boundaries of pizza recipes. Customers resonate with Mozzeria’s classic Neapolitan pizzas the most, so those selections remain at the core of the menu. Certain specialties, such as the “Peking Duck” pizza at the San Francisco location, are included on the menu but even these are unique to San Francisco’s cultural origins. Future Mozzeria locations will have menus customized to their regional preference.
Mozzeria’s mission is both to create excellent food and opportunities. They give customers an opportunity to experience what Mozzeria can bring to the table and give the deaf community opportunities for employment that they often lack access to. Melody finished with, “We want the food to speak for itself,” and “Give deaf people a chance. Hire them. Consider them. That’s our success story.”
If you would like to support Mozzeria, be sure to stop by their restaurant if you find yourself in San Francisco, and keep an eye out for new locations! You can also follow them on social @mozzeriasf.
Follow @gimetalusa on Instagram to catch more #Pizzamerica stories for unique and inspiring U.S. pizza experiences!