San Francisco

Mozzeria's Russell And Melody Stein: The Perfect Pizza, Wine Vs. Beer And SF's First Deaf-Owned Restaurant

Who: Russell and Melody Stein

Neighborhood: Restaurant in the Mission, home in the Inner Sunset.

Years in SF: Russell: five; Melody: life

Current Gig: Mozzeria -- an authentic Neapolitan pizza joint with international influences. The husband and wife team will be the first to open a deaf-owned restaurant in San Francisco. (And, according to Russ, in any major U.S. city.) Both Melody and Russ are deaf, as is much of the team that built the restaurant.

The resto will undoubtedly face some stiff competition on 16th and Guerrero. (It's a block from Little Star and two blocks from Farina's new Antica Pizzeria Napoletana, opening soon. And we know the folks at Farina don't mess around.)

But it appears that the Steins aren't messing around either. Melody is a second generation restaurant owner, and spent the last year studying pizza-making in Italy to perfect her method. And Russ will soon be spending days loading almond, oak and apple woods into the 5,000-pound Stefano Ferrara wood-burning oven imported from Italy. Pizzas will be cooked in the traditional Neapolitan style: blistering hot and blazing fast, at 1000 degrees for less than a minute-and-a-half, resulting in a thin, charred, sauce-dripping slice of heaven. Just how we like it.

Melody and Russ, where did you each grow up? When did you come to San Francisco?
Melody: I was born in Hong Kong and moved with my family to San Francisco when I was 6 years old. I have one younger brother, Joseph, who is also deaf.
Russell: I was born in New York City and first came to San Francisco when I took a job with Relay America. After a succession of jobs, I moved to San Francisco for good in December 2006.

Melody's family restaurant background is in Chinese cuisine. How did you two decide to open a Neapolitan pizza place?
Russ: I have always had a love for Italian food. Being a New Yorker, I love to eat four things: New York cheese pizza, Sicilian, chicken parmigiana and meatball parmigiana.
Melody: When Russ and I discussed what kind of restaurant to open, he loved New York pizza, but I didn't think it was special. Then we ate Neapolitan and I loved it. That's how we reached our agreement.

What's your idea of the perfect slice?
Melody: My idea of a perfect pizza is Margherita: Neapolitian sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil baked with soft bread crust that is slightly burned with wood flavor -- I love a charred, wood-burning flavor on the pizza crust.
Russ: The perfect pizza would be crispy with thick sauce and cheese melted everywhere, so when you bite, you taste the combination of bread, cheese and tomato sauce perfectly.

What do you think is the biggest mistake chefs make when approaching pizza?
Melody: Pizzas have become such a huge industry that people eat even bad pizzas. People put all kind of ingredients into pizzas. What we are trying to do is to maintain traditional original pizzas, and at same time introduce international flair to celebrate the diversity that the city has to offer.

Wine or beer with pizza?
Melody: Wine -- wine balances well with tomato sauce and cheese. I personally would have pinot noir with my pizza. Mozzeria will sell California and Italian wines, as well as local beers on tap.

What restaurants/chefs in San Francisco inspire you?
Melody: Elizabeth Falkner, Tyler Florence, Mission Chinese Food, Tony's [Tony's Pizza Napoletana] and Pizzeria Delfina, to mention a few.

You are both deaf and, according to KQED, make an effort to support other deaf professionals whenever possible. Have you found that deaf professionals face challenges or discrimination in the industry?
Melody: When I walk in, I find the restaurant to be beautiful and am proud to have worked with skilled and talented deaf professionals and also people who have connections to the deaf community.

I am just like any other person who wants to pursue their dream. You don't see deaf restaurants out there. As a deaf person who wanted to open a restaurant to serve customers, both hearing or deaf, my goal is to hire deaf professionals, whenever possible. I know how hard it is for them to find jobs in professions that are resistant to hiring them. I experienced the same thing myself, and in launching the restaurant, I want people to see that deaf people are talented professionals who are capable of doing their jobs.

What's your overall goal for Mozzeria?
Melody: Growing up, I loved the way my dad interacted with customers, introducing them to exotic food dishes and making friends. I always enjoyed going out to restaurants and trying out new dishes with friends. I want to continue carrying this family tradition. Our kids are already exposed to different cuisines, and have developed interesting palates. They like to experiment at home with us. We want to continue to serve great Italian food and build long-lasting friendships.