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Employee inspires Deaf Happy Hour at Petaluma Pie Company

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Petaluma Pie Company has announced plans for a monthly Deaf Pie Happy Hour, starting Tuesday, April 2, from 4 to 7 p.m. It will continue the first Tuesday of each month. Open to all, anyone who orders in American Sign Language (ASL) will get a 15 percent discount.

The idea was initially floated by one of Petaluma Pie’s employees, and has been enthusiastically embraced by the staff, who themselves have been learning ASL, as well as modified teamwork procedures to assist their deaf coworker. Dining out presents particular challenges to the deaf but the folks at Petaluma Pie want to show that a small amount of effort could make a substantial impact on a section of our population that is all too often left out of life’s little pleasures, which so many take for granted.

Co-owners Angelo Sacerdote and Lina Hoshino learned about the challenges facing the deaf when Alivia Alberigi-Speicher, who was born deaf, came to interview for a job last year. Neither owner spoke ASL but through the help of an interpreter from the California Department of Rehabilitation, they were able to learn more about Alivia and decided to give her a chance.

Clearly, this new hire would change how they did business. But Sacerdote and Hoshino could tell Alivia was a hard worker who was driven by her passion to bake, and deserved a chance to explore her dreams, just like anyone else. The small amount of extra effort required was well worth it for such a dedicated employee.

Alivia is 24 years old and was born deaf but grew up in a speaking household with her parents and sister in Sebastopol. Her first language is ASL, although she also learned to read and write English. She loved to bake cookies as a child and followed that passion to the culinary arts program at Santa Rosa Junior College.

Along the way, she also worked for Mozzeria, a pizzeria and food truck based out of San Francisco, which was launched in 2011 by a deaf couple.

I am embarrassed to admit that prior to meeting Alivia, I knew nothing about the deaf community or even the basics of ASL. If I understand correctly, ASL is actually its own language and not simply a hand-signed version of English, although that does sometimes play a role. Unlike communicating with someone who speaks a foreign language, which share a lot of root words with English, ASL is its own language with its own sentence structures. Although many deaf people also learn to read and write English, that is not automatic, especially for those who were born deaf.

Alivia can read and write in English, and was able to decipher my chicken-scratch handwriting as I wrote questions on a handheld dry erase board that the owners bought to communicate with Alivia. The process is slow, but Alivia showed a great deal of patience. She consistently shows a willingness not to give up, even when faced with monumental challenges.

The owners have gracefully embraced the new challenges of accomidating a deaf team member, and even offered employees an afterhours ASL workshop on the front patio. Additionally, Hoshino is currently enrolled in the Petaluma Junior College’s ASL program where she is both learning the language, as well as gaining a greater understanding of what it means to be deaf.

“The staff has really rallied around Alivia,” said Hoshino. “…employees Connor Ragozzino and Alex Gies work closely with Alivia and were integral in helping to develop a teamwork system in the kitchen.”

Personally, Alivia’s prefers sweet pies to savory, her favorite being the strawberry cream. She has a deft hand in piping perfect swirls of whipped cream atop the pies.

When asked about the hardest part, both Alivia and Hoshino choked up. It is not easy to find a job as a deaf person, she said, but she knows those who are deaf can do the work, they just need a chance to prove it, like the one she received.

Hoshino hopes that stories like Alivia’s will inspire other businesses to hire folks with all kinds of disabilities.

“The Deaf Pie Happy Hour is open to everyone,” added Hoshino. “We’d love for non-deaf people to come and learn about the deaf community, and see that other than speaking a different language, they are really no different than the rest of us.”

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