A Brewery For the Deaf — and Everyone Else
The taproom at Streetcar 82 has no music or TV, and customers like it that way.
All photos by Phil Galewitz
From the outside, Streetcar 82 Brewing Co. in Hyattsville, Md. looks like an old automotive service station. But step inside this small brewery just north of Washington D.C. and within a few minutes you realize its something totally unlike anything on the burgeoning East Coast brewery scene. There’s a tiny tap room with eight beers on draught and seven fermentation tanks lining the back of the brewery with a handful of cafeteria style tables lined up in front them for customers to look out garage windows toward the main street. That’s a look not much different from hundreds of other breweries.
What stands out about Streetcar, besides its great beer, is the near silence — even with 15 customers inside enjoying a Sunday afternoon. There’s no music blaring from speakers. There’s no television. Most people inside, including the owners, are using sign language to communicate.
Streetcar 82, which opened in September, is the only deaf-owned brewery in the East Coast and one of only three nationwide. The beauty of the brewery is that its not just building a sense of community among the deaf community, but its also welcoming to everyone. In the process, it helps those with normal hearing to appreciate those without.
Jon Cetrano, Mark Burke and Sam Costner are the three owners, all graduates of Gallaudet University, a college for deaf and hard of hearing that’s 5 miles south of the brewery. The brewery takes its name from the 82 Streetcar line which ran from 1888 until its closing in 1958. This line started in downtown Washington and continued through the northeast part of the city to Hyattsville, and then to College Park near the University of Maryland. “We chose this name because all three of us live on the path this line took through our neighborhoods and we can easily imagine ourselves hopping onto Streetcar 82 and meeting up at our brewery to make and drink craft beer," Burke said.
After they graduated from Gallaudet, they left to start our careers in different parts of the country. Cetrano taught at a secondary school for the deaf. Burke was athletic director at a secondary school for the deaf and worked as a bartender. Costner was sales director for a video relay service provider that helps people hard of hearing use a telephone. “All three of us came back here because of the community support that is unique to this northeast DC and Hyattsville area,” said Burke who began homebrewing about a decade ago. “We wanted to create a place where people can come together, be neighborly, and enjoy beer.”
The other deaf-owned breweries around the country are Arizona’s Lochiel Brewing and Oregon’s Grateful Deaf Brewing. Jennifer Leake, 27, who was enjoying an IPA at Streetcar 82 recently and teaches at pre-school for the deaf, said the brewery is comforting for all. ‘Its helps bridge the divide between the hearing and the deaf community and no one feels intimidated here,” she said. Without any music or TVs, she said people are more apt to talk to each other or strike up a conversation with a stranger. Or as Burke said: “We let people work on their social skills here,” not their social networks.
With three IPAs on tap, two saisons, a sweet tasting stout and a Belgium table beer, the hardest decision at Streetcar 82 is to decide which four to put on a flight. The brewery sits downtown down the street from a brewpub, newly opened distillery and a meadery. Together, the businesses have helped the suburb tucked between University of Maryland and Washington become its own destination.
Q and A with Streetcar 82 co-owners
I met Burke and Costner at the brewery who spoke to me on their own and through a translator who knows sign language. They, along with Cetrano, later answered questions via e-mail.
What was the inspiration that got all the partners to start the business? What was the Eureka moment?
Burke: “I was working behind the bar at Union Social (now defunct) closed to Gallaudet. One day, a business professor from Gallaudet who knew me stopped by and told me that I should open a brewery. He knew I brewed beer. He mentioned that Gallaudet was holding a Shark Tank style business pitch competition the following week and that I should enter. Later that night, I thought about it and contacted Sam, Jon, and said, ‘Hey, lets do this!’ and we did. We entered the competition and won the $250 audience favorite award and used that to buy more equipment... I guess we never looked back.”
Was it a goal of starting the business to help people understand the deaf community, and to give those who are deaf a place to hang out?
Cetrano: “No, it was just a natural extension of who we are. We want to share who we are as a community and as deaf people. Our brewery is an extension of ourselves and we've created a space where the hearing community feels welcome and by extension has a space to learn about the deaf community.”
Costner: “That extension of who we are also attracts deaf customers as well. If you build a space that's open and welcoming, people will naturally be attracted to it. We don't aim to make our space a place for deaf people, local people, or hearing people in general. Its just naturally developed into a space where people feel welcome and cross-cultural interaction is encouraged. “
It’s a welcome change to go to a brewery without music or televisions. Do you realize that?
Burke: “Yes. We did think about putting a sound system in but it is expensive and we just shelved it for later as we were just starting out, and I think based on the customer feedback, we'll probably leave it as is. Its hard being a community gathering spot if you have to yell to be heard. We want people to chat with each other and connect. I think the lack of music encourages that.”
Did you have extra challenges starting the brewery because of being deaf?
Burke: “Yes and no. Being deaf we miss out on a lot of incidental learning that happens, such as podcasts or side conversations that occur when we're at a gathering of brewers. That’s a challenge because its much harder for us to pick up a snippet of conversation and turn around like ‘Hey, mind telling me more about that?’ We miss out on a lot of that type of learning and some people aren't as accommodating with people who can't hear. But thankfully that’s been few and far in between.”
Costner: “Technology has also helped level the playing field here. Not many people conduct business over the phone these days. It is all texts and email and that’s been good for us. Some of our suppliers and people we do business with don't realize we're deaf until they step foot in here.”
Any new beers that you will be releasing in the next month that you can describe?
Burke: “We have two that we're particularly excited about. We have a Toasted Coconut Stout that we're tapping in early February. Its on the sweet side, and has that chocolatey taste but its still a beer-not a pastry stout. We'll also be brewing Fancy Nancy - a hazy New England IPA which we've dry-hopped with Simcoe and Citra. We'll also be doing our second batch of The Colonel, which is a pilsner and quite the crowd pleaser. We named that one after my father in law, Tom Tucker, who is a retired colonel and a frequent regular at the brewery.”
Do you think your brewery will inspire other people who are deaf to accomplish their dreams?
Costner: “We hope so. If it does, we'd be happy to hear that. There are other deaf entrepreneurs setting up their own businesses and we're inspired by them as well.”
Burke: “One quote I've taken to heart is ‘Believe you can and you are already halfway there!’ ~ Teddy Roosevelt. Once we believed we could set up this business the hard stuff was already out of the way. We believed in ourselves and our plan and made it happen. If that inspires other deaf people or any other person to follow their dreams, then that’s excellent!”
Streetcar 82 is 4824 Rhode Island Ave., Hyattsville, Md.