After a $90K setback, café for deaf residents finally opens in Newark

Posted Mar 23, 2021

The road to opening Deaf’s Delight Café, a new eatery in Downtown Newark that caters to the city’s deaf and hard of hearing residents, wasn’t easy. After years of working toward its opening, a burglary in 2019 all but stomped out Sandra Rivers’ hope of creating a place that could honor what her parents went through during their lifetimes.

“Both of (my parents) died in a society that wasn’t built for them,” Rivers told NJ Advance Media. “I wanted to make sure the community didn’t die in the same manner my parents did.”

Rivers’ parents were deaf, and there was never really a place they could go on their own to have fun and meet new people, she said. Sometimes she would even hear people laughing under their breath, when eating out with her mother, she previously told NJ Advance Media. Her dream, she said, was to create a space where that wouldn’t happen.

It was coming together in 2019, but in November of that year, $90,000 -- her life savings -- worth of equipment was stolen from the property that now houses the café. The case is still open, and no leads have led police to a suspect, a representative for the Newark Police Department said.

But, donations from the community helped keep the venture afloat, Rivers said. A now-closed GoFundMe fundraiser raised nearly $30,000 for Deaf’s Delight in 2019.

Despite the setback, and the struggles of navigating the opening of a restaurant during the coronavirus pandemic, the café finally opened to the public this January.

Accessibility is the key to Deaf Delight’s dining experience. Staff members know sign language and movies are streamed with open captions daily. Patrons can order breakfast, lunch and a menu of different coffees.

The small storefront has even played host to a wedding for a couple of its patrons.

“The deaf community pretty much stayed home while I was growing up. They can’t go to the movie theaters....they can’t go to festivals...they didn’t go to restaurants (because of) the communication barrier,” Rivers said.

“It was rough watching my mom not go anywhere and stay in the house.”

Thyson Halley, an advocate from Jersey City, who identifies as deaf and hard of hearing, said Deaf’s Delight is a special place that was badly needed in New Jersey’s largest city. He told NJ Advance Media he and friends have traveled to Washington D.C., where there is a more accessible nightlife scene, when they wanted to have a good time.

“Finally (there’s a place with) open caption TV. Finally, someone can sign and take your order,” Halley said as he signed.

Halley is an activist in the deaf community. He’s lobbied support for a bill (AR35) that would urge all law enforcement agencies in the state to implement training programs for officers on how to approach people with impaired hearing. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Nicholas Chiaravalloti (D-Hudson), Rep. Carol Murphy (D-Burlington) and Rep. Harold Wirths (R-Sussex), passed the Assembly in a unanimous vote on March 1.

As more people learn about the café, Halley said he hopes the hearing world will be part of Deaf’s Delight’s growing community.

“You may see people just talking, just moving their hands and (wonder) ‘is this the right place for me to come in?’” Halley said. “Yes, you’re welcome. Come, learn, experience this world. This world is amazing. I’m telling you it’s a life changing experience.”

Both Halley and Rivers estimated that Newark’s deaf and hard of hearing population is nearly 22,000. There are nearly 850,000 New Jersey residents living with varying degrees of hearing loss, according to language in the bill.

“What I’m trying to do is educate the hearing world and bring them here to meet with the deaf community, kind of bringing two worlds together,” Rivers said.

Deaf’s Delight is located at 2 Treat Place in Newark.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-03-24 03:25:16 -0700