By: Zach Brendza | Features Editor
Half a century ago 1211 Braddock Ave. was one of the first indoor Chevrolet dealerships. A year from now, the long vacant space will be the site of Chef Kevin Sousa’s next restaurant, Superior Motors, if everything goes according to plan.
Superior Motors in Braddock will seat 50 in a 3,000 square-foot space with additional seating possible on the roof and courtyard. The restaurant will feature a 1,000 square foot rooftop greenhouse, with an additional 4,000 square foot raised bed garden and have 24 to 36 employees and trainees.
The restaurant will also be rent free for its existence, courtesy of Braddock Mayor John Fetterman. Fetterman lives in a loft above Superior Motors and bought the space in early 2013.
“When you come in, you’re not going to feel like [you’re in] a restaurant that was just plopped into the center of Braddock,” Sousa said, who also owns restaurant Salt of the Earth in Garfield.
To fund the restaurant venture, Sousa and Fetterman took to Kickstarter, with a goal of $250,000. According to Fetterman, because of the unconventional nature of the project, crowd sourcing was the best way to go about raising money.
The campaign lasted 33 days and ended on Jan. 6 at 11:59 p.m. When the campaign ended, the total exceeded their goal, finishing with $310,225 from over 2,000 backers plus a $40,000 donation from the Heinz Endowments to go toward an educational part of the project.
The project was the most funded restaurant project in Kickstarter’s history, despite being $100,000 short of its goal in the final weekend of the campaign.
“Social media just took off on Sunday [Jan. 5]. I can’t explain it. I don’t know what to say about it, but it’s humbling and inspirational,” Sousa said.
“The fact that over 2,000 people gave up their hard earned money during the Christmas season is humbling,” Fetterman said. “We didn’t set out to be the most successful restaurant in Kickstarter history, but it does make us optimistic about Braddock’s future.”
The restaurant will be a farm to table style restaurant using ingredients from Braddock for menu items.
“We’ll pay homage to traditional dishes of the region, maybe with a slightly more modern interpretation,” Sousa said. “It will be what I do, it will be a Kevin Sousa restaurant and use as much product from the region.”
Sousa estimates that 75 to 85 percent of the food used will be sourced locally or grown in Braddock. Crops will be grown in Braddock Farms, which is a few blocks away from the restaurant’s location, eggs will come from Braddock hens and honey will come from Braddock’s apiary located near the farm. There is also the possibility of pheasants, goats and quail being raised in Braddock for Superior Motors, according to Sousa.
Fetterman believes that the restaurant will have a “tremendous” impact on the community and the restaurant and Braddock’s resources will combine into something larger than the sum of its parts.
“We’re not talking in hypotheticals. We have an urban farm, hostel, apiary, art gallery. Kevin [now] lives in Braddock,” Fetterman said. “These things are already here and with them is going to be something.”
Braddock Farms primarily grows crops to sell at its farm stand for Braddock residents, according to Braddock Farms manager Marshall Hart.
“I don’t know of the volume [for Superior Motors]. We’ll just have to go about it organically,” Hart said.
Having already worked with chefs through Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance, a farmer owned cooperative, Hart is excited to work with Sousa and Superior Motors. He is looking forward to the educational component and what it will look like.
According to Sousa, six to 10 students will be taught how to cook, farm and learn other restaurant related skills in a yearlong curriculum.
While the education portion is being worked out, Fetterman thinks that could be a certification program students could go through and if they have met the criteria, could find a home in any kitchen in Allegheny County.
“With Kevin’s reputation in the industry, it would be an incredibly powerful tool for those looking to get into this line of work,” Fetterman said.
There are plans for there to be trainee housing on the restaurant grounds, as well as use of the Braddock hostel, located next to the restaurant space.
“I have felt for a long time that a restaurant or place to eat is an important place to have,” Fetterman said.
Fetterman wanted to bring in a chef that had a track record of opening restaurants in tougher areas, someone that would be able to pull people to the restaurant and someone willing to do it and wouldn’t be put off by Braddock
“Kevin fit those. He’s a good solid kid,” Fetterman said.
On Sousa first trip to the area, it reminded him of McKees Rocks.
“It struck me as a place I could call home. I just fell in love with it,” Sousa said. “It’s a really great town, oddly beautiful with a backdrop of the steel mill and river. It’s the kind of place I’ve had a connection to,” Sousa said.
With a tentative opening of early 2015, Braddock could become to progress.
“I think it’s going to change everything,” Fetterman said. “How are you not going to look at Braddock differently when 2,000 people supported the project?”