Family of deaf crepe-sellers serves up State Fair fare with a message
By ERIC AASEN Staff Writer
Published: 18 October 2012
Another hungry customer approached the Crepe Crazy stand at the State Fair of Texas and started talking, ready to place an order.
The worker across the counter waved his hands. He pointed to his ear and shook his head. He motioned to a large laminated menu on the counter featuring pictures of crepes.
The customer’s eyes widened. It clicked: The worker is deaf.
The customer touched a picture on the menu. The worker grabbed ingredients and got to work.
At the State Fair, in a corner of the very loud food court in the Tower Building, a deaf family quietly makes sweet and savory crepes.
Vladimir and Inna Giterman, the Austin-based owners of Crepe Crazy, have sold crepes at festivals across Texas. This year, for the first time, they’re making them for State Fair crowds.
The Gitermans want to show those who hear that those who are deaf or hearing impaired can be productive workers.
“I’m representing the deaf community in the hearing community,” Inna Giterman said via a telephone relay service. “They think deaf people can’t do anything. Deaf people can do anything — except hear.”
‘A lot of work’
The Gitermans wanted to start their own business, so they began selling crepes in 2006. Vladimir had fond memories of his mother making crepes on the stove.
He has been in charge of the State Fair booth, with assistance from Inna’s dad, Solomon Giterman, who is also deaf. Inna has been working at other crepe stands around the state. Their son, Sergei, also deaf, helps run stands on the weekends. When they need help, they hire deaf workers.
Some concessionaires wait years for an opening at the State Fair — typically, there are just one or two a year.
Melanie Linnear, the State Fair’s director of concessions, who’s on the hunt for new and different foods, once spotted the Gitermans selling their crepes at a Grapevine festival. She was surprised that they were deaf but impressed that the stand attracted long lines of customers. Linnear handed over her business card, and the family later submitted an application.
The Gitermans were picked not because they are deaf but because they’re experienced food vendors, Linnear said.
“It just goes to show how you can overcome any adversity,” she said.
One morning last week, Glory Dadiotis, a State Fair concessionaire who sells fruit kabobs, stopped by the Crepe Crazy booth. She blew a kiss to Vladimir. He blew one back.
The crepe workers are impressive, she said.
“You should see them under pressure,” she said. “It’s quiet. They look stress-free. Cool, calm and collected. … They don’t have a handicap. They can work just like we do. They probably work harder than we do.”
‘What’s a crepe?’
The Gitermans are used to a variety of reactions from customers. One fairgoer offered a bewildered look — he just couldn’t believe that the workers were deaf. Some will write down questions on paper. Some simply talk louder, thinking that will help — but Vladimir has no hearing.
A small number of fairgoers will approach the stand but not order anything because they don’t want to try to communicate, Vladimir said.
Then there are the fairgoers who ask: “What’s a crepe?”
Many customers like to peer over the counter and watch Vladimir as he places the batter on the hot crepe maker.
Crepes are “beautiful art,” Vladimir wrote down on paper.
Albert Medina of Arlington had already eaten fried ribs, fried tomatoes and “fried everything,” but wanted a crepe, too.
“I tripped out, so to speak,” Medina said when he realized the crepe workers were deaf. “I just took it for granted that he could hear.”
A few minutes later, after eating his dulce de leche crepe, Medina approached Vladimir and gave him a thumbs-up.
When Kate Ondras of Irving ordered a Peanut Butter Heaven crepe, she sensed that the workers were deaf. She knows some sign language, and the large picture menu was unusual at the fair.
Ondras had been near the stand earlier in the week and had seen a woman ask the workers for napkins. They signaled that they couldn’t hear her. She started yelling. Then she walked away.
“Everybody should be able to talk to everybody, whether you can hear or you can’t,” Ondras said. “Write it down. Communicate in some kind of way, rather than saying, ‘Oh, they’re useless.’”
Before he headed back to the crepe maker, Vladimir grabbed a sheet of paper. He wrote that some fairgoers who don’t know much sign language will place their hands at their mouths and move them down to their waists.
It impresses him.
It’s the sign for “thank you.”