Deaf-Friendly Eateries to Try Around the World

Oct 23, 2018

The U.S. coffeehouse scene has just reached a milestone: An all-signing Starbucks—the nation's first—opened this week near Washington, DC's Gallaudet University. Employing a mix of Deaf and hard-of-hearing partners, as well as hearing partners who are at least proficient in American Sign Language, this is a “Deaf-friendly space” (think well-lit rooms, unobstructed sight lines and a variety of visual methods for ordering and claiming your drink) where everyone's welcome.The DC signing store is actually Starbucks' second—the first is in Kuala Lumpur—and one of a growing number of Deaf-friendly F&B hotspots around the world. To give your travels a thought-provoking (and tasty) twist, check out any of these favourites. And a note: Canada's first-ever Deaf-friendly restaurant, Toronto's Signs, closed a few years ago, but if you have other Canadian recommendations, let us know and we'll share them with our readers.

Mozzeria, San Francisco

This Neapolitan-style pizzeria—complete with wood-fired, 5000-pound oven—is owned by a Deaf couple, Russ and Melody Stein. He grew up in New York City, where dining out with his Deaf family was frustrating: When waiters would rattle off the daily specials, the Steins would nod politely and just guess at what was being said. So full communication access is a priority at Mozzeria, whose all-Deaf servers sign, write or gesture. And in a nod to Melody’s family, who've owned restaurants in Hong Kong for generations, Mozzeria serves up a signature Peking duck pizza with hoisin sauce, among other memorable creations. Soon, San Francisco won't be the only place to check out these wood-fired wonders: The Steins have started a franchise to give other Deaf people a boost in the restaurant business, so look out for the Mozzeria in Austin (Follow the restaurant's social channels for timing updates.)

Bravo Coffee, Taipei

Johnny Lo and Mandy Chang, the Deaf owners of Bravo Coffee, prefer to communicate in Taiwanese Sign Language (yes, almost every country has its own), so the sunshine-yellow walls of their cafe are festooned with illustrations of crucial local signs such as "good morning," "coffee" and "thank you."  But any caffeine-deprived customer can order easily, thanks to a large point-and-order menu. Whatever you choose, it's sure to be a work of art: Knowing what a competitive business coffee shops were, Lo trained extensively with a teacher, taking six months just to master the foamed milk flowers, swans and hearts that top his drinks. And the house waffles pair perfectly with pretty much anything.

Crêpe Crazy, Austin

Already an Austin institution, Crêpe Crazy is an only-in-America fairytale: Two Deaf immigrants turn a secret family recipe into a pair of successful restaurants that serve a stateside take on a European classic. Vladimir and Inna Giterman, who met in Kiev, moved to the US in 1990 to enjoy basic services that were unavailable to Russian Deaf people at that time. After trying (and failing at) several small businesses, the duo launched a food truck that changed their lives. Using his mother’s crepe recipe, the Giterman's offered just two flavors, with no thought of starting a restaurant. But the response was overwhelming, so a brick-and-mortar Crêpe Crazy opened in 2014—and another bigger location followed two years after that. Now, the couple's children—who've been educated at Austin's Deaf schools—help manage the restaurants, where the offerings have expanded significantly since the early days. You'll find a cornucopia of crêpes, from the savory Southwest (fire-roasted red peppers, corn, black beans, tomatoes, red onions, romaine, Monterey Jack and chipotle-lemon aioli) to the sweet Peanut Butter Heaven (peanut butter, bananas, honey, roasted almonds and chocolate sauce).

Sign with Me, Tokyo

Japan boasts a bevy of Deaf-owned establishments, from bars to ramen shops. But Sign with Me stands out as a “social café,” following an entrepreneurship model that puts profits in the hands of Deaf employees. And the first location has been such a success, owner Masahiro Yanagi recently opened a second—and hopes to add to the franchise. While the offerings are fabulous (try the tomato crab bisque or pumpkin and corn potage), Sign With Me is equally notable for promoting Deaf culture and Japanese Sign Language—and providing a place where Deaf people can socialize, and Deaf and hearing can meet. 

1000 &1 Signes, Paris

After a career as a teacher, owner Sid Nouar returned to his first love, cooking—a skill learned from his Moroccan mother. And his modern, cozy Parisian café aims to make everyone to feel comfortable: While the staff is all-Deaf, non-signing patrons are given a white board to write on (though many choose to gesture or learn signs—all good). His specialty? Moroccan tagines cooked tender in the conical clay pots of the same name. Try lamb with prune and almond or chicken with potatoes and olives after some traditional lentil soup. And don't leave without trying the strong, sweet mint tea with some petite pastries.

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