Marcus Bryant grew up black and deaf, a double whammy of discrimination that would shape his entire life.
Not only did he deal with the institutional racism of a divided country just after the Civil Rights movement, but the 43-year-old Mesa resident learned to live with a hearing disability for which many people don’t have the patience.
To make matters worse, Bryant floated around foster home to foster home during childhood, making his success today even more unexpected.
“I get a lot of inspiration from Martin Luther King Jr.,” Bryant said through a sign language interpreter. “The fact that he never gave up. I grew up with discrimination, and I became resilient. He is a huge source of positive thinking.”
Bryant is now the creator of Chef Marcus’s Kitchen Tacolicious and Catering Business. Since October he’s been popping up his canopy across the Valley to serve gourmet tacos at street events, office parties, private birthdays, neighborhood gatherings and anywhere else you might see a food truck.
January is Black Deaf History Month, and it’s also a month that honors the birthday of MLK. It’s safe to say the late Civil Rights leader probably would have been proud of Bryant’s story of perseverance.
Long before he had any dreams, Bryant was just trying to stay alive.
One night when he was 9, his birth parents went to an event and left him home alone with his five siblings. The house caught fire, forcing Bryant and the other children to barely escape the flames.
Because the children were unattended, Bryant was put into foster care and rarely saw his birth parents again.
“It was a traumatic experience,” Bryant said. “I moved 11 or 12 times. I was never in a house with a family that could communicate with me.”
The unstable life, combined with the disability that already made life hard, caused him to feel depressed, confused and bitter.
But the upward trend in Bryant’s life wasn’t far away. He finally found a family in West Covina, California, who could sign, giving him a stable home. And a transfer to a new high school near Los Angeles opened his eyes to something he could focus his future on – the culinary arts.
He ultimately enrolled in the Coastline Regional Occupational Program in Costa Mesa and received a culinary arts certificate.
Since then Bryant has worked mostly in the hospitality industry, serving up food at various places across Southern California before moving to Arizona in 2013 to be near the family of his wife, who is also deaf.
Bryant previously served as the lead chef at the Seville Golf and Country Club in Gilbert for a time and now works full-time at the Red Mountain East Valley in Gold Canyon when he’s not running the taco stand.
His Tacolicious menu is varied.
It includes Chef Marcus’s Cinnamon Apple Pie Dessert Tacos, which feature cinnamon sugar, caramelized apples and green colored whipped cream. The Blazin’ Shrimp Tacos are a spicy number with roasted bell peppers, jalapenos and black beans. And don’t forget a vegan choice, with The Best Vegan Street Tacos, featuring cauliflower and Portobello mushrooms.
Bryant said many of his customers don’t know he’s deaf when they come up to his table. A lot of the ordering consists of pointing, nodding and writing down orders.
“Some people get impatient and say they don’t have time,” Bryant said. “I’m still trying to find the best way possible to communicate with customers. It’s ongoing learning.”
In launching the business, Bryant has been using a pop-up tent to quickly create a portable kitchen where people want gourmet tacos. He eventually plans to invest in a food truck and hopes to open his own restaurant as the ultimate dream.
“When I look at it with an analytical eye, I think, ‘I can do this,’” Bryant said about opening a restaurant. “There’s nothing different than what I’m doing now other than it’s a brick-and-mortar store.”
Bryant’s company branding is hitting all the big spots. He has his website, ChefMarcusTacolicious.com, Twitter and Instagram pages and even a YouTube channel he calls “The Deaf Chef Marcus.” With Bryant’s gregarious personality, there’s no surprise he’s labeled the channel under the “comedy” category.
He said he’s trying to be a positive influence for others who deal with hearing problems.
The Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing estimates 1.1 million residents suffer some level of hearing loss. That’s nearly 16 percent of the state’s estimated seven million people.
The ACDHH was formed in 1977 to become an advocate for any hearing loss issues in government and to serve the state’s growing population of people with hearing loss. The commission’s work can be seen at events such as Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks, where close captioning units are available.
About 20,000 people in Arizona are culturally deaf, meaning they use sign language to communicate. The ACDHH estimates about 30 percent of deaf people in Arizona know how to sign.
When Beca Bailey, the community engagement liaison for ACDHH, heard about Bryant and his business on Facebook, she thought it would be a great story to tell people who read the commission’s newsletter.
“He’s a very energetic and motivated guy,” said Bailey, 44, who lost her hearing at birth for unknown reasons. “When he gets frustrated about something, he’s very solution-oriented. We want deaf people to see (his story), but we also want people who are struggling with hearing loss to know our services are available.”
Bryant has already been giving back to the young deaf community. He recently started telling his life story to children at deaf schools across the Valley to help inspire them to dream big despite their disabilities.
“I’m trying to impart to them that I know how they feel, especially when they can’t communicate with their parents,” Bryant said. “I want them to know about the power of positivity.”
Bryant has an upcoming speaking event planned for Sequoia School for the Deaf in Mesa.
To contact Bryant about booking his catering services, visit his website or call 480-264-0147.