The Deaf and the hearing commune over stellar beers at Maryland brewery, Streetcar 82
As the first Deaf-owned brewery east of the Mississippi, Streetcar 82 Brewing Co. in Hyattsville, Maryland, broadens the notion that beer brings people together. At its heart are friends and owners Jon Cetrano, Mark Burke, and Sam Costner. Graduates of Washington, DC’s Gallaudet University, chartered in 1864 as a private institution for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, they have created a welcoming place for the Deaf and hearing alike. They positively impact the Deaf ecosystem, providing employment for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, while bringing together separate communities.
Walk into Streetcar 82 and you immediately get the feeling that you’ve found the coolest little brewpub. For starters, it’s a clever repurposing of a long vacant auto garage into a snug watering hole, complete with a spacious light-strung patio—an urban biergarten. There’s a nod to local history—named after streetcar line number 82, which from 1888 to 1958 connected northeast Washington, DC, to the University of Maryland in College Park. The beer taps showcase an enticing array of lagers, pilsners, stouts, and IPAs, and people gather to enjoy frosty glasses and flights throughout the space. Soon, other aspects come into focus: There are no flat-screen televisions. No music blares over a sound system. The rhythm and hum of the place, instead, comes from the guests themselves, engaged in conversation, both speaking and signing.
“Mark was the common factor in the three of us connecting,” Cetrano explains. “He and I first met working at Model Secondary School for the Deaf on Gallaudet campus, and we both played on the All-Deaf Men’s Rugby Team. Then we started brewing beer together.”
When Burke’s friend Sam Costner moved back into the area, the trio became complete. One evening, while imbibing some cold ones, they decided to turn that home-brewing passion into a business, drawing on the close-knit community they had enjoyed at Gallaudet. They first looked around DC for a location.
“But we found the ‘it factor’ in Hyattsville, where Mark lives: diverse, open, and warm,” Cetrano says. “We could see that the city was ready for a business such as ours. Everyone was willing to put in the effort to communicate with us.”
After two years of work, they opened the brewery in June 2018 at a site that had been the Hyattsville stop along the old streetcar route. Turns out, they each live in a different neighborhood connected by the line. In another time, they would have hopped the streetcar to the brewery.
“As a matter of policy, we reinvest in our community wherever possible—meaning, we check first for any Deaf-owned business to supply our needs. If not, we pivot to local businesses before we reach out to larger chains,” says Burke.
Carpentry, masonry, window-washing, and electrical work are all performed by Deaf-owned enterprises. Several food trucks and pop-ups that serve there daily, such as Mozzeria, a mobile Neapolitan pizzeria, and Jolicious Bakery, are Deaf-owned and operated. And the brewery staff is all Deaf. For a population that experiences close to 60 percent underemployment, Streetcar’s commitment to hiring Deaf employees, especially in service positions, is making impactful changes in building confidence and removing barriers. Burke notes that many have been with the brewery since day one, and turnover has been low. He credits the staff and community with Streetcar’s success and with helping them make it through the uncertainty of the pandemic.
“With community, the key is to take care of each other, to participate and show support in different ways, great and small,” Burke says. “We all go the extra mile for each other.”
Their business model also includes collaborating with area businesses to create specialty brews. Read through the roster of what’s on tap, and you’ll see shout-outs to several of those partners: Vigilante Coffee in making Livin’ the Hy Life, their coffee stout; next-door neighbor Pizzeria Paradiso for their Happy Little Cherry Sour; and 2Fifty BBQ for their Pitmaster lager.
For the hearing who don’t know American Sign Language (ASL), communication can be as simple as pointing, gesturing, or writing things down. You can even learn the sign for your favorite brew.
“Streetcar is a low-stress environment conducive to positive interactions,” Cetrano says. “And, of course, the beer helps, too!”
Streetcar 82 Brewing Co. reached its five-year anniversary in 2023. In that time, it has become a true community hub. You might see a birthday party in progress, friends celebrating with homemade cupcakes and beers. (Word: The coffee stout is amazing with anything chocolate.) On Tuesdays, you can take ASL classes led by a local Deaf ASL teacher. In the family- and pet-friendly space, it’s common to see kids playing on the brewery’s big patio or a beloved pup resting at his owner’s feet. Folks play board games, cards, or corn hole. It’s a neighborly intersection of Deaf and hearing, signing and speaking, side by side, bonding over craft brews.
“The ultimate reason people are at Streetcar is because of the beer and the community we foster here. We want that experience to be at the forefront,” says Burke. “We want people to tell their friends, ‘Hey, they’ve got great beer. Oh, and by the way, they’re Deaf-owned and run.’”
- by TLP Editors
- by Hannah Lee Leidy
- by Amber Chase