The inauguration of one of the newest Restaurants in Portland, Pah!, has drawn visitors from as far away as Montana and Las Vegas. Within hours, the restaurant had sold its home made burger patties, and the owners had to temporarily close to catch up on their preparation. There are no other restaurants like this in Portland and few other restaurants like this in the country.
Paa! is a proudly Deaf, queer, and Latinx restaurant at The Zed, the food court of Zoiglhaus Breweryis the dining room. Lillouie Barrios, who is deaf, and her husband Victor Covarrubias, who can hear, teamed up to open the restaurant, which displays a Mexican flag, bisexual pride flag, LGBTQ+ flag and trans flag; a deaf flag is coming soon. The menu includes pub-style fare such as blooming onions, burgers, and fish and chips. They created a workplace where Barrios could not only be free from the discrimination he previously faced in the industry, but where d/Deaf* culture was showcased. (Editor’s note: Some d/deaf people, including Barrios, prefer to use a lowercase d to represent people who became deaf later in life or who have many hearing relatives and friends; many people who use a capital D strongly identify with Deaf culture, have attended schools for the deaf, and have many Deaf family members and friends.)
“Since working in local restaurants, I really struggle to communicate while working there. I felt oppression and discrimination. And I thought, what if I do something very different? What if I worked in a place owned by deaf people, with full access to communication? I decided to open it myself, be my own boss and hire deaf employees”, explains Barrios through an interpreter.
The restaurant’s name, Pah!, is ASL slang for “success” or “finally”—an exciting term for Portland’s first deaf restaurant. Each dish on the menu is also given its own ASL name. 258, the name of the flowering onion, means “very interesting”. Kissfist, the nickname for the classic cheeseburger, means “I love it”. Ca-Ca, the name of the salad, means “That’s exactly what I’m talking about!” » and Pei Pei, the name of the bacon cheeseburger, means “arrogant”.
“When you go to an Asian restaurant or an Italian restaurant, the names of the dishes are often written in their language,” says Barrios. “Why should it be any different with the FSA? »
The couple brings to Pah! his previous experience in the food and beverage industry. Barrios worked at Queen’s Head, McMenamin’s and Mis Tacones, while Covarrubias worked at Harlow and his family’s restaurant, Don Pepe, in Oregon City. The couple connected through a dating app seven years ago when Covarrubias invited Barrios to a concert. It wasn’t until the couple met in person that Covarrubias realized Barrios was deaf. Much like when he applied for jobs, Barrios did not include in his dating profile the fact that he is deaf. “It was a bit of a shock,” says Covarrubias.
“Well, he should have told me he heard!” Barrios retorts. Covarrubias didn’t know a word of ASL when the pair met, but he’s dedicated himself to learning online, including via YouTube.
So how does ordering work at a deaf-owned restaurant? Those who know ASL communicate with the cashier in sign language. Those who don’t know how to sign speak on a tablet connected to a microphone and equipped with transcription software that displays the words spoken on the screen. The cashier writes the order directly on the counter with a liquid chalk pen to confirm that the dishes have been communicated correctly, then writes the total price of the order.
“Too bad for the hearing people who are in charge, you have to work our way,” says Barrios.
We tried the Kissfist, which looked like a classic cheeseburger on the menu, but surprised us with a little extra punch from Pah’s own secret sauce (hint: it involves Worcestershire). The galette was juicy and perfectly cooked, while the cheese – Muenster, in this case – was nicely gooey. The hand cut fries were crispy and not too greasy, with an added secret sauce for dipping (or in our case, aggressively dipping). There is also a vegan option for all burgers. They use plant-based cheese from Portland’s queer and Latinx vegan taqueria My tacones. IIn the future, Barrios and Covarrubias plan to add their own handmade vegan burger patties. Gluten-free options are also in the works.
In the six weeks since Pah! opened, Barrios and Covarrubias have already hired two employees, and both are d/Deaf. While one had previously worked in the back of the house as a dishwasher, this was the first time he had worked in the front of the house as a cashier – a position that d/Deaf people are often excluded. In the future, the couple say they hope to open restaurants in cities across the country to provide more opportunities for d/Deaf people to gain experience in the industry.
The site also serves as a gathering place for the d/Deaf community and its allies. In November, Pah! will begin hosting Deaf Night Out, a monthly gathering on the second Saturday of the month for d/Deaf, hard of hearing people and their hearing allies. They also hope to organize a weekly d/Deaf event in conjunction with ASL classes at David Douglas High School.
Their ultimate dream? To open a deaf gay bar staffed entirely by deaf employees, including bartenders and cooks. If you’ve been to drag shows in Portland, you might know Barrios by his stage name, Sin Number. He performed drag at The Nest, Portland Pride Festival and the now-closed Local Lounge, where he performs lyrics in ASL, called hand-sync, rather than lip-sync. During the pandemic, Barrios started her own drag performance company called Manual synchronizationwhich hosts all-d/Deaf drag queen shows in cities including Seattle, San Francisco, Phoenix and New York.
Barrios is taking a break from drag performances while running the new restaurant, but he will return to the stage in September for a performance in Washington, DC, one of the nation’s largest centers for the d/Deaf community. In the meantime, he is preparing to host Manual synchronization, its first d/Deaf drag queens convention from June 9 to 11, 2023 in Portland; a Handsync cruise on the Mexican Riviera is also planned for spring 2024.
Pah!, 5716 SE 92nd Ave, Eatpah.com, @pahpdx