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Beer Is the Language of Choice at This Deaf-Owned Brewery

January 29, 2019

By Diana Hubbell, January 29, 2019

Last September, Mark Burke, Sam Costner and Jon Cetrano opened Streetcar 82 Brewing Company in Hyattsville, Maryland. On the surface, the neighborhood taproom and microbrewery pouring hazy IPAs and hoppy saisons resembles many others across the country, with one key distinction: The business is 100 percent Deaf-owned and operated.

“There is a perception that Deaf people aren't capable of working in the front of the house and we're actively changing that,” Cetrano says. “Our goal for Deaf individuals who work with us is for them to leave here with the knowledge, skills, and experience that will benefit them at another job somewhere else.”

Part of the idea for launching a brewery came out of their own personal frustrations in the job search. After graduating from Gallaudet University and working as an athletic director at the Model Secondary School for the Deaf, Burke found himself unable to land another suitable job in education. He spent his days sending out resumes and evenings bartending to make ends meet.

“I applied for hundreds of jobs, all of which I was qualified or even overqualified for, and had no offers. I only got one interview,” Burke says. “That is a bit demoralizing and is a big part of why we started this business.”

Despite being located in a former garage, we've had people tell us it feels like a second living room. Beer brings the community together.”

By this time, Burke had already been an avid homebrewer for around a decade. As much as he loved tinkering with all the possible variables and sharing the results with his friends, he never dreamed of turning his hobby into a profession. One night, an old professor from his university days swung by the bar and suggested that he enter BisonTank, a Shark Tank-inspired competition. It’s just one of Gallaudet University’s initiatives to help foster a generation of Deaf entrepreneurs that not only thrive in a competitive job market, but create additional employment opportunities for other members of the Deaf community.

“I got Sam, Jon and two other friends together and said, ‘Let’s do this,’” Burke says.  “So we all did the research, entered the competition, won $250, and since then the three of us haven't looked back.”

Cetrano had bonded with Burke while the two were teaching at Model and playing on the All Deaf Men’s Rugby Team. He’d already been dabbling with homebrewing kits and as their friendship grew, so did his love of beer-making. Meanwhile, Costner was a bourbon-lover at heart who had met Burke years ago when they lived in the same town. It took the three friends, all Gallaudet University grads, a year to obtain the necessary capital, then another year to build Streetcar 82 Brewing Company. In order to keep costs low, they took a DIY approach to the project.

Streetcar 82 Brewing Company. Above photo © Hopstories on Assignment for CraftBeer.com

“A lot of it was learning on the spot and asking questions,” Costner says. “It also meant doing as much work as we can do ourselves, whether it was paperwork, demolition, or shoveling out clay to save on excavation costs.”

All that effort paid off in an inviting space that has already become a local fixture in Hyattsville. It helps that the taproom introduces new draft beers every week in a range of styles. Burke, who is responsible for coming up with the majority of the recipes, is partial to brewing saisons, while Cetrano favors stouts like the HyLife, which is brewed with coffee beans roasted a block and half up the street.

“Despite being located in a former garage, we've had people tell us it feels like a second living room,” Cetrano says. “Beer brings the community together so for us it isn't just the idea of making and selling beer. It’s creating a place where people will enjoy going.”

Just by having this place we're dispelling myths one beer at a time.”

Part of that welcoming atmosphere has to do with the location. Hyattsville’s proximity to D.C. attracts a cosmopolitan crowd, but its population of under 20,000 gives it a small-town vibe. The name Streetcar 82 is an homage to the streetcar line that used to pass through the area.

“I feel like I'm the unofficial mayor of Hyattsville,” Burke says. “The town is awesome. It’s such a cool spot—diverse, welcoming, and very neighborly. This town was ready for a business like this.”

The Deaf community, in particular, has rallied behind the venture, in part because of the opportunity it represents to educate and connect with the larger population from the D.C. area. Some of the customers on the communal benches speak in sign language, while others do not, but all are here for the same reason.

“We’re a cultural and linguistic minority. We're proud of our identity,” Costner says. “The local Deaf community has been supportive and has celebrated our successes with us. We have our Deaf regulars just as we have our Hyattsville regulars and boosters.”

Despite the service industry’s long-standing history of discriminatory hiring practices, Streetcar 82 Brewing Company is proof that Deaf individuals can thrive in hospitality.

“We've had a few [customers] that were momentarily confused or awkward for a few seconds, but once they realize it’s really like any other place, they've gotten over it and enjoyed their stay,” Cetrano says. “It is much easier than people realize to chat, order, or hang out at the bar. Just by having this place we're dispelling myths—one beer at a time.”

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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