WASHINGTON, D.C. — Some say food is a universal language. That's certainly true for Jeff Perri, the manager of Mozzeria Pizza in Washington D.C.
“I’ve been chasing goals for 30 years. I wanted to be an executive chef. That was my ultimate goal. But it’s been really hard because of the experiences of oppression,” said Perri.
He’s worked in the food service industry for three decades, but he says being deaf has held him back from achieving his goals
“I wanted to showcase my skill and my artistry in that way, but my opportunities were limited because of my communication,” said Perri.
But now, Perri has found a place where he can share his gifts and communicate with his coworkers. All the employees at Mozzeria are deaf or hearing impaired.
While the employees may not be able to hear, their talents making beautiful and delicious pizzas is on full display at Mozzeria.
“It’s a beautiful thing and feels like a breath of fresh air to actually not have to work and worry about how I’m going to communicate, what I’m going to do around other hearing people who do not know sign language. That is a lived experience,” said Ryan Maliszewski, the CEO of Mozzeria Pizza.
He wants to use his business to give job opportunities to the deaf community.
“At the end of the day, we have a serious underemployment and unemployment challenge within the deaf community,” said Maliszewski
According to the website Statista.com, half of the deaf workforce is employed, while hearing people are employed closer to 75%. That’s a substantial difference.
Maliszewski knows how hard it can be to find work as a deaf person.
“My journey was definitely not an easy one. I had to knock on a lot of doors to be able to get where I am today. I can remember going into several job interviews without an interpreter, because I was that desperate to find a job,” said Maliszewski.
That struggle has inspired Maliszewski to try and give opportunities to those who may not get them other places, like Perri, and the others at Mozzeria. If anything, the staff’s passion for good food is the loudest thing in the room.
Maliszewski also wants to help bridge the communication gap between people who can hear and the deaf. You don’t always have to use sign language.
“You can use your phone, a tablet. You can point to items on the menu. We actually have a self service kiosk that we installed last week,” said Maliszewski.
Mozzeria Pizza has been serving opportunities, empathy and great pizza since they opened their doors in 2019. And they don't plan on stopping anytime soon.