Signs, a New Canadian 'Deaf Restaurant'

The most delicious way to learn sign language.

ByABC News
July 9, 2014, 5:52 PM
Owner Anjan Manikumar makes the sign for rabbit, one of the menu items at his restaurant Signs in Toronto on June 30, 2014.
Owner Anjan Manikumar makes the sign for rabbit, one of the menu items at his restaurant Signs in Toronto on June 30, 2014.
Richard Lautens/Getty Images

— -- The dining scene in Toronto is turning the tables on hearing clientele with Signs, a deaf restaurant and bar that encourages communication solely by sign language. The first of its kind in Canada, customers are asked to order their meals by signing and the restaurant will be mostly staffed by deaf servers.

Not fluent in sign language? No problem. Customers will be given a cheat book of sorts that will contain the most popular phrases used in restaurants and instructions on how to sign the various menu options.

The restaurant is the brainchild of owner Anjan Manikumar, who began learning American Sign Language (ASL) when working as a manager at a Boston Pizza in Markham.

“I had a deaf customer that would come around a lot,” Manikumar told ABC News. “He wasn’t getting the service he deserved.”

After attempts to communicate with a deaf regular customer consistently resorted to a series of pointing and nodding, Manikumar decided to learn to sign.

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Manikumar’s journey began with the basics, learning the gestures for “hello” and “enjoy,” but even the little he could communicate made a big difference.

“He was delighted,” Manikumar said of the deaf customer's reaction. “He came back the very next day with a deaf friend.”

The experience inspired Manikumar to expand his knowledge of ASL and ultimately open his own restaurant where sign language is key and hearing customers are encouraged to learn.

“Let’s bring the deaf waiter in and ask the hearing customer to sign his order,” he said of his idea to flip the script.

Manikumar said he hopes his restaurant will allow people to see what’s it’s like for the deaf community, who he describes as very passionate and talented individuals.

“We speak English, they speak sign language, that is the only difference,” Manikumar said of the community that he feels “is like my own family.”

Manikumar said he recognizes the difficulties the deaf community may encounter when looking for a job, and he hopes that his restaurant is the first step in incorporating deaf individuals into other industries.

Signs is reminiscent of San Francisco’s Mozzeria, an Italian restaurant known for having deaf owners and deaf staff members, as well as O.Noir restaurants, where customers dine in darkness and are waited on by blind servers.

“Our community in Toronto is very supportive,” Manikumar says of the attitudes towards the restaurant, which has an estimated of July 28 at Yonge and Wellesley.