JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – It might be the quietest Chili’s in America. And that’s not a bad thing.
The Jacksonville Beach location is getting attention for all the right reasons.
“When it’s quiet in our kitchen, it means everything is working,” said managing partner Tiffany Perry. “Usually when it’s quiet in the kitchen, it means something is wrong.”
The majority of the kitchen staff is deaf.
“Sometimes there are issues, but it works out most of the time,” said an energetic food runner Jason Prevatt.
Prevatt is deaf but can read lips. He is the newest member and said he is thankful for steady work so he can support his 2-month-old daughter.
It’s Caleb Mercado’s first job. He’s helping his parents pay their bills, driving nearly 40 minutes to work each day. That includes passing by other Chili’s locations.
“[This job taught me] to be proud of myself,” Mercardo said. “I work hard.”
This wouldn’t be possible without Tyler Powell.
At 23, he’s a trendsetter and now a junior manager.
“I just want to keep working here and get promoted,” he said, using his girlfriend as a translator.
Unable to hear since he was 5, he’s struggled. Life hasn’t been easy for him, but he hasn’t let his condition slow him down. When he showed up looking for a job nearly two years ago, Perry saw a spark.
“Right when I first interviewed him, I was talking to him about where he came from, who he is, and I asked him, ‘What do you want to do?’” Perry said. “‘Dishwasher? Cook?’ He said, ‘I can only be a dishwasher. That’s all they told me I could be.’ And right there -- I’m a mama of four boys -- that tugged at my heart. And I said, ‘No, let’s go. What do you want to do?’ And he said, ‘I want your job.’ We were joking in the interview and I said, ‘Alright, I hope you get it.’”
He quickly moved up to cook and then a shift supervisor, but he wanted more. He referred his friends from the Deaf community for jobs. He ended up bringing in eight people!
Powell got a referral bonus for each. Plus, it helped Perry fill vacant positions which the restaurant had been struggling with since the pandemic -- a win-win.
“I learned to lead differently,” Perry said. “I learned to listen to my instincts a little more, to be quiet and just to hear without hearing. It’s definitely different. The whole restaurant supports his team, all of us know how to sign for chicken and for shrimp and for corn on the cob and boats. It’s things we use every day, but everybody in this building has united and enjoyed this great culture.”
The team members use watches and phones to keep in contact. Powell now has a business card. It reads: “I’m deaf, I can read lips well and how may I help you?”
With his help, staff has learned that communicating with customers isn’t that hard either. In fact, the regulars are quite welcoming.
“I’ve seen them blossom,” said Carol Thompson, who’s a frequent guest at the restaurant. “They’re very friendly and personable. It’s been a great thing for them.”
Powell and his team want to continue to grow and inspire, one plate at a time.
“Humans are all the same doesn’t matter if you are deaf,” Powell said. “You’re still human.”
“It would be really exciting to see him be the general manager,” Perry said. “He is coming for my job. He told me that from day one.”