Canadian restaurateur Anjan Manikumar is piloting a first-of-its-kind dining concept that seeks to bring jobs to the deaf while also bridging an age-old communication gap.
At the aptly-named Signs restaurant in downtown Toronto, a staff of 50 is comprised entirely of deaf servers, Manikumar told The National. Guests are encouraged to place their orders in American Sign Language, using instructive icons on the menu that appear next to each dish.
The unique business model aims to provide new opportunities for deaf workers. In the U.S., the total unemployment rate for disabled workers (12.1 percent) is nearly double that of the non-disabled community (6.3 percent), per the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Related: Hiring Employees With Disabilities
Manikumar whittled down a pool of 200 applicants to a staff of 50 -- most of whom had no prior restaurant experience, he said.
Signs officially opened its doors last Tuesday and reservations are already pouring in, The National reports.
And while employing waiters and waitresses who speak a different language than their customers may sound like a recipe for bungled orders, Manikumar said that Signs’ unique, conjoining experience seeks to transcend such miscommunications.
“It’s a deaf environment where hearing people can come in and experience our world and our culture, so it’s really amazing,” said waiter Mehdi Safavi of his first full-time job. “It’s a challenge for me, but a great challenge.”