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Sushi chef learns how to sign menu for Deaf couple: ‘Nearly brought me to tears’

“At Tatsu, we looked silly being in awe with smiles on our faces,” says Melissa Keomoungkhoun.

The type of service a customer receives can either make or break the experience of dining out. One couple who went out to eat at an upscale restaurant in Dallas, Texas found out what it really means to receive top-shelf service with a heaping helping of kindness.

On Nov. 22, D Magazine's online dining editor Nataly Keomoungkhoun posted a Twitter thread about the service her sister Melissa Keomoungkhoun and her husband Victor Montiel received at Tatsu Dallas that nearly brought her to tears.

In the thread, which has been liked and retweeted thousands of times, Nataly describes how staff at the hot spot went above and beyond to give her sister and brother-in-law the best experience possible.

“Dining critic @bgreinhart wrote a stellar review of Tatsu Dallas, an omakase restaurant that is one of the city’s hardest reservations,” tweeted Nataly, referencing her colleague Brian Reinhart's work.  “I’ve visited & love it a lot. The food is unmatched. But I want to tell you about the service at Tatsu Dallas.”

After telling friends and family about her experience, her sister and fellow foodie Melissa was able to score a hard-won reservation. And, after visiting the restaurant, Melissa says she and her husband had an experience that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.

Dallas sushi chef learned how to sign the menu for deaf patrons
Melissa Keomoungkhoun and her husband Victor Montiel.Courtesy Melissa Keomoungkhoun

“My husband and I are Deaf,” Melissa tells TODAY Food via email. “When going out to restaurants, we are usually prepared to accommodate the communication with the staff such as using our voices with American Sign Language, we would use our voices while showing texts on our phones of what we need or want to order or we would ask for pen and paper if communication gets too difficult.”

Tatsu Dallas is an omakase establishment, which means patrons receive meals consisting of dishes selected specifically by the chef. Knowing this, her sister was concerned that communication with staff during the meal would be difficult, as these types of meals involve more discussion of the food than usual.

“She knew the hype behind the omakase tasting menu, and she understood that a lot of the meal is intimate and explained by word of mouth,” tweeted Nataly.

Melissa emailed Tatsu Dallas to inform the staff that she and her husband are Deaf, wanting to find out how they could get the full experience without being able to hear the chef's explanation of each dish. Melissa and her husband received the tasting menu ahead of time, which allowed them to get an idea of how their meal would go. The restaurant also told them that a much more detailed menu would be provided on the night of their visit so they could read everything the chef wanted them to know.

“They even sent us their beverage/cocktail menu for us to review in advance, only because they thought it was the best way to communicate with us directly!” Melissa says.

When they finally arrived at the restaurant on the night of their reservation, they received a pleasant surprise: a greeting by staff in American Sign Language (ASL).

Dallas sushi chef learned how to sign the menu for deaf patrons
Tatsuya Sekiguchi, chef-owner of Tatsu Dallas.Courtesy Tatsu Dallas

“When my husband and I walked into the lobby room, we were greeted by Janice, the Beverage Director, Tatsu’s wife and Tatsu in ASL,” says Melissa.

She adds that her and her husband were very surprised, considering they’re always prepared to have a conversation with the restaurant staff about communication before dining in any public space. “With the staff signing at Tatsu, we didn’t feel left out even though it created some attention in the room!” she says.

“Chef Tatsuya Sekiguchi also learned how to sign the entire tasting menu,” Nataly tweeted, adding that Melissa said she saw a printout behind the bar of how to sign parts of the menu. “It blew her away and nearly brought me to tears.”

“At Tatsu, we looked silly being in awe with smiles on our faces,” Melissa says, adding that staff went out of their way to be accommodating, including slipping them small notes explaining what was going to happen next and best dining practices for the full omakase experience.

Dallas sushi chef learned how to sign the menu for deaf patrons
The intimate interior of Tatsu Dallas.Courtesy Tatsu Dallas

“We talk about Tatsu almost all the time and we want to go back again because they exceeded our expectations, nothing is overlooked and we didn’t have to work twice as hard,” Melissa says.

After lauding the service in her Twitter thread, Nataly shared that Melissa and her husband came home raving about their dinner. “Brian says no detail goes unnoticed at Tatsu Dallas. It’s true. Tatsu Dallas is one of a kind,” tweeted Nataly.

Tatsuya Sekiguchi, chef-owner of Tatsu Dallas, says an experience he once had working in New York City cemented his efforts to always provide the best service he possibly can.

“My most memorable experience was back in NY, when a stage 4 cancer patient came to dine. He had a short life remaining and his dream was to go to Japan to eat sushi,” Sekiguchi tells TODAY in an email through a translator.

Dallas sushi chef learned how to sign the menu for deaf patrons
Tatsuya Sekiguchi, chef-owner of Tatsu Dallas.Courtesy Tatsu Dallas

“At the end of the night, before they left, his friend came up to me to tell me their story. We were all blown away,” he says, emphasizing how happy he was to be able to make their experience special even without knowledge of their situation. “My belief is Everyday and Everyone is special.”

Sekiguchi says that his goal now is simply to create and provide a special and memorable dining experience every single day. “We all are celebrating something everyday. If I can help make it more special, I am very grateful,” he says.

On the viral Twitter thread, many people replied that this story highlights how accessibility in restaurants has quite a long way to go.

“There was one tweet I saw on my sister’s thread, ‘Accessibility is Hospitality,’” Melissa says about one particular tweet in the thread. “Customers like my husband and I are used to accommodating the staff’s preferred communications at the restaurant, shops, hotels, etc.”

“It’s really nice to see people being aware and posting positive responses about learning ASL in the hospitality industry — to create human connection through language,” Melissa adds.

Sekiguchi makes sure to stress that he and his staff did not learn ASL for attention, but he was appreciative that some people reached out to tell him it made their day a little brighter. He says he hopes Melissa and Victor stop by again soon so he can practice his ASL.

“I did not learn completely. I learned the phrases that I need to use during service,” says Sekiguchi. “We hope they will return so until that day we will all continue to study and learn ASL.”