Chongqing - At the doorway of his restaurant, Wang Tao welcomes customers with sign language. His hotpot restaurant is the quietest on this bustling food street, even at the peak restaurant time. Like Wang himself, most of his customers are hear-impaired.
The 57-year-old owner lost hearing when he was four and learned sign language at a special education school. In his twenties, he left for Beijing to earn a living and returned to Chongqing in 2017, where he opened a snack store staffed by hearing-impaired people.
The profit-making store showed Wang the possibility of creating more jobs and a sense of belonging for his peers. Last May, he partnered with friends in opening Mr. Deaf and hired hearing-impaired people.
The restaurant had a rough start due to Wang's inexperience. "There were a lot of passers-by on the street, but they rarely came into our restaurant. We even reached a point where paying the rent and salaries was a problem," Wang recalled. Improving the food flavor and attracting customers became his headache.
Closing the restaurant was seemingly the only option before Wang was introduced to Li Dalan, a restaurant professional and enthusiast for charity. Li had helped her hearing-impaired friend operate a restaurant; she knew the business and sign language. After market research and experience learning, Wang and Li decided to add a light-flavored Canton-style hotpot to the menu alongside the spicy Chongqing hotpot.
"Hearing-impaired peers gave us many advice, and they really liked it when we introduced the Canton-style hotpot," Wang said. Nearly 80 percent of his customers are hearing-impaired, and he offers them special discounts.
While the restaurant is brought to life, Li still comes regularly to help. Although the restaurant has normal-hearing staff and provides writing pads for customers and hearing-impaired staff to communicate, Li's presence can make it easier, especially during busy hours. "When customers have difficulties communicating with Wang and hearing-impaired staff, I can be the translator," Li said.
The restaurant became famous in the community as more and more hearing-impaired people became Wang's customers and posted the restaurant on social media. As business is on the rise, Wang plans to open a branch of Mr. Deaf, "I am confident to create more jobs and help more hearing-impaired people," Wang said.
(The original author is Guo Shuyu from Liangjiang New Area Media Center)
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