Mozzeria DC: Neapolitan Pizza With a Purpose

Updated: Oct 1, 2020

Mozzeria, a Deaf-owned and operated Neapolitan pizzeria based in San Francisco, opens its second location Friday, September 4, 2020, on H Street Northeast. Located half a mile from Gallaudet University, the only university for the Deaf and hard of hearing in the world, Mozzeria aims to "increase career placement opportunities for Deaf people" says Ryan Maliszewski, Chief Executive Officer. I interviewed Maliszewski, who communicated in American Sign Language, with the help of an interpreter.

Maliszewski says that Mozzeria, which has two wood-burning ovens imported from Naples and is one of less than 1,000 pizzerias worldwide to have a certification from the International Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, opens on Labor Day weekend as a nod to the company's broader mission. "We're opening on Labor Day weekend as an example of our goal that equal opportunity be provided to the Deaf and hard of hearing community. I worked at a restaurant before and they never gave me a chance to advance. Immigrants, persons of color, women, and others face the same challenges where they can be sort of stuck in the back of the house or not given opportunities to advance."

Maliszewski emphasizes that Mozzeria hopes to "create a space where our employees can look towards the future", and shatter "all of these biases and mindsets about the limitations of Deaf and hard of hearing folks and what they're capable of." He notes, "we want to provide leadership opportunities and careers, not just jobs", in an economy where Deaf and hard of hearing unemployment and underemployment remains a significant issue. A 2019 report by the National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes found that the employment gap between Deaf and hearing people ages 25 - 64 was more than 22%.

Mozzeria also aims to provide "customers a welcoming, memorable, and visual environment to experience." Maliszewski says, "we're taking a DeafSpace principle" where the built environment is well-suited for Deaf people and communication. He explains, "if you look at our bar area and overall space, there are no walls, it's a very open, porous space filled with light. Everything is glass and see through to allow for easy visual communication so that you can sign, wave, and get someone's attention without having to walk and go to another room. We also want our customers to be able to see us sign and maybe learn a sign for themselves. There are QR codes you scan to see the menu and to order, which will also show you the sign for that dish. We wanted it to be very visual."

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, Mozzeria's indoor dining room is currently closed and the pizzeria offers takeout and delivery only. In the future, beyond opening for indoor dining, Maliszewski says Mozzeria hopes to continue expanding, looking towards partnerships in the local community and with organizations like the CSD Social Venture Fund, which supports Deaf entrepreneurs and helped raise money for Mozzeria's current space. He notes, Mozzeria's ultimate goal is "to open a third and fourth location and be able to improve cash flow and build the company to provide employee equity and stock options. I also imagine gathering the stories of the employees and giving them a moment in the sun, so people can know their names and what they've been through."

Mozzeria is located at 1300 H Street NE, Washington, DC, 20002. Order online here.

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