When it comes to bridging the communication gap between hearing people and people who are deaf and hard of hearing, a first step is to start a conversation. At Downtown Ozark Nutrition LLC, that conversation is over colorful, nutritional drinks, such as shakes and teas.
Katie McCormick, a regular customer at the shop, says her relationship with deaf owner Diane Morgan began with communication via phone notes. When Morgan’s phone unexpectedly died one day, she started teaching McCormick sign language so they would have another way to communicate.
While approaching a deaf person to talk may seem intimidating, McCormick presents a solution she learned from interacting with Morgan: “The best way is just to say hello, even if it’s a nice wave, a kind smile, or breaking your phone out and typing out, ‘Hey, how are you?’”
When Morgan purchased Downtown Ozark Nutrition in January 2022, she says talking to customers was one of the biggest challenges. It wasn’t long, however, before she became comfortable with communicating, often using writing or texting. Teaching American Sign Language to anyone who is willing to learn is also something Morgan enjoys.
“I actually love to mingle with customers now,” she says via email.
Morgan takes orders – typically using phone notes – runs the register and makes the drinks. She says breaking the communication barrier between hearing people and deaf people and inspiring other potential deaf business owners are the most rewarding aspects of owning Downtown Ozark Nutrition.
Morgan’s deaf friend Nathan Johnston, owner of Republic Wood LLC, says technology is a huge help for deaf business owners, noting texting and microphones on smartphones act as aids that speed up communication.
“I would also recommend that if you decide to go visit a deaf-owned business,” Johnston says, “be patient with the communication barrier and see what works.”
Open for business
In addition to the unique challenge of being a deaf business owner, Morgan faces the typical challenges of business owners. Johnston says Morgan is self-motivated, and it’s a trait that serves her well running the business.
Morgan purchased Downtown Ozark Nutrition from friend Ashley Bryan, who is also a member of the Deaf community. Bryan started the business in October 2020, after opening Nixa Nutrition LLC in September 2019. Additionally, she operated Malvern Nutrition Club in Malvern, Arkansas.
After visiting the Malvern location in 2018, Morgan was inspired to step into an ownership role, and a few years later, she did in Ozark. The other locations have since closed.
Currently, she and her husband, Andrew Morgan, run the business. Morgan says they hope to start hiring employees in the future.
The store serves a wide customer demographic, ranging from kids to adults. The busiest time of day is typically 9 a.m.-noon, she says, declining to disclose revenues.
Spilling the tea
Morgan hopes Downtown Ozark Nutrition will help others get healthier, as Bryan’s nutritional drink shops did for her. The shakes serve as meal replacements, mostly Herbalife products, offering 24 grams of protein and ranging from 250 to 360 calories. In addition, the products offer around 20 vitamins and minerals. There are over 50 flavors, among which the Brownie Batter, Banana Pudding and Banana Nut Bread are most popular.
The store is designed to offer a nutritious alternative to greasy fast food or sugary caffeinated drinks; the shakes have 10 grams of sugar. McCormick says the lack of a standalone Starbucks coffee shop in Ozark was one reason she first decided to stop at Downtown Ozark Nutrition. Now, she visits three to five times a week.
Also on the menu are teas, protein waffles and protein oats. A discount is offered to first responders, veterans, nurses, doctors and teachers. Additionally, there is a special deal every day of the week, such as Double Punch Tuesday, which allows customers to receive two punches on their loyalty cards.
Morgan says adding more healthy products to Downtown Ozark Nutrition’s menu is one of her next goals.
“Diane is really great at bringing new products out,” McCormick says.
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