WASHINGTON (WDVM) — The District’s first Deaf-owned-and-operated restaurant opened over Labor Day weekend. Mozzeria first opened in San Francisco, Ca. in 2009. 

There are less than 500 known Deaf businesses in the country. Mozzeria CEO Ryan Maliszewski says Washington, D.C. is home to the largest Deaf population per capita in the world. Mozzeria’s new location in the H Street Corridor is down the street from Gallaudet University, a private university for the Deaf and hard of hearing, and the founders’ alma mater. 

“There’s a lot of untapped talent of Deaf people in the Deaf community that aren’t always given the right opportunities,” Maliszewski said. 

Maliszewski says online orders “lit up” within the first hour of the restaurant’s opening on Friday. A line of customers formed down the street. The restaurant employs only eight people, but based on the weekend’s success, Maliszewski says they might have to reconsider. Mozzeria is only offering takeout at the moment, but will offer full service dining eventually. 

“We’ve got a Deaf bartender, Deaf front of house, et cetera,” Maliszewski said. “So we want our customers to leave with a new perspective after visiting Mozzeria.”

Mozzeria is looking to open at least two locations each year, stimulating about 500 career opportunities for Deaf people. “Mozzeria really wants to be a platform for helping Deaf employees reach higher ground; get into management and get opportunities to train other people as they come in the pipeline and differentiate themselves in a very competitive market and a very competitive area. So I’m really proud of the team thus far,” Maliszewski said. 

The employment opportunities are impressive…and so is the menu: they’ve got Washington’s first double wood burning pizza oven to cook up their popular margherita pies. Fresh mozzarella is made in-house.

Most recently, Maliszewski directed Gallaudet’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab. Now, he’s hiring Deaf employees in the same neighborhood. “We have access to the larger pool of federal employees who are Deaf, for example, who could come to Mozzeria and are looking for job opportunities for Deaf people,” he said. “We are Deaf people. We are opening businesses. We’re doing it during the middle of a global pandemic and, therefore, anything is possible.”

A 2017 American Community Survey reported that 50 percent of Deaf people were employed while 75 percent of the non-Deaf population were employed.