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There’s a restaurant in Canada, newly-opened, that requires all signers to communicate in sign language.


This concept is unique.

It’s not that there haven’t been restaurants which catered to a Deaf demographic in the past and in other locations. The unique part is where diners are required to immerse themselves and actively participate in a culture which by its nature is especially insular.

It reminds me of the concept, and controversy, behind some of the first American karate dojos. On the one hand, you have an argument that by offering the general public a channel of cultural access, you can create a more positive and controlled visibility for a particular cultural demographic and reduce harmful prejudices. On the other, by opening channels of societal investment in a subculture you run the risk of any investment seeker – forming a too-informative relationship with your stakeholders that can degrade the overall structure of your organization.

If everyone becomes aware of Deaf culture, does everyone then feel entitled to speak on behalf of Deaf culture? Do people begin to identify with Deaf culture while having only a superficial understanding of what it means to be Deaf?

Looking at the history of karate in the U.S., I think it’s fair to say both mentalities are justified. Not all karate dojos do karate well. McDojos spring up every day which have, in fact, shed their cultural underpinnings to the point that the culture that does remain is at best superficial and at worst revisionist.

Of course cultural standards can shift over time; the fully Americanized dojo may spring as much from a desire to form something new as from accidental ignorance. Still, it’s a far cry from the master concept that spawned them first – probably because concept is less tame and manageable a commodity than procedure. Procedure is easy to reproduce. The outward manifestations of a kata are easy to memorize. What is not easy to replicate are the nuanced internal pressures that result in (non-chemically altered) wood-breaking strength.

The first time I’d really considered the strategic benefits of a business plan revolving around the conversion of foreign masses to a nuanced culture occurred when I heard the pitch of a man intent on opening a French bistro in Southbridge, MA. Southbridge is a smallish town, without very much French culture, but the Metro Bistro’s owner assured me this was the very reason he’d decided to locate there. He wanted to see French culture in Southbridge, hence he was bringing it there. And he wasn’t afraid that people wouldn’t know what to do with the food, because he did.

When the Metro Bistro finally opened, I had the opportunity to observe his philosophy in action. It was shattering and inspiring to watch him yell at diners who asked for butter or well-done filets, insisting that the diner conform to his culinary standards or have nothing at all. And people complied, enthusiastically, to being so mastered and led. The man was obviously passionate about his work, obviously an expert with something to share, and wouldn’t let his diners cheat themselves out of an authentic experience.

The prevailing narrative concerning sound business planning is bullshit. The politically correct strategy of banking on existent or emergent market trends exclusively ignores the role that each new business has in crafting culture. Businesses that embrace this reality are uniquely positioned to lead the market, and are at least prepared to influence the social and political fabric of society in a conscientious rather than haphazard way.

Here’s the Bistro I’m talking about: