Why You Should Fund Kevin Sousa’s Superior Motors
It’s not just a groundbreaking restaurant; it’s a belief in a radical idea for urban renewal.
Photos by Nara Garber
On Monday, one of — if not the — region’s most ambitious Kickstarter campaigns to date will close: chef Kevin Sousa’s fundraiser to build the audacious, hopeful, beautiful Superior Motors in Braddock. At the time of writing, 737 backers have pledged $147,016 of the $250,000 goal. Many more have helped spread the word.
Much has been written about this ambitious project, with most of the narrative anchored by Sousa’s nationally acclaimed talent and penchant for pushing the envelope. Much also has been written about Braddock and the many initiatives that Mayor John Fetterman has undertaken to revitalize the town. Though Superior Motors brings together these two creative forces, it is more than the sum of Sousa + Fetterman. The project’s success hinges on people to open their hearts and believe in the possibilities and potential that Superior Motors will represent.
The Superior Motors Ecosystem
What is the vision that drives Superior Motors? It starts with a belief that an abandoned town has potential to renew.
Braddock has lost 90 percent of its population. Once a booming industrial hub of 20,000 people in the 1920s, a little more than 2,000 remain, and 35 percent live below the poverty line (compared to 16 percent in the nation). After the steel mills closed, Braddock was abandoned and forgotten.
Fetterman has consistently been firing off catalysts to stoke the fires of change: the Nyia Page Community Center, a rehabilitated convent that serves as housing for visiting artists; the Braddock Youth Project; Braddock Redux; his wife Gisele Fetterman’s Freestore; and policies supporting initiatives, such as Grow Pittsburgh’s Braddock Farms, art gallery Unsmoke Systems and upstart brewery The Brew Gentlemen. Fetterman’s efforts have created a national buzz about Braddock, with Levi’s featuring the town in a 2010 commercial spot.
Superior Motors is the next, and again perhaps the most ambitious, salvo in this intrepid approach to economic revival.
In the realm of urban renewal projects, the hopeful restaurant’s social innovation and entrepreneurship model is groundbreaking.
Social entrepreneurship merges for-profit and social good goals. It's easy to understand the relationship when it's about TOMS shoes: If you buy a pair, the company donates one to a child in need. A restaurant is more complex.
Superior Motors bills itself as a “community restaurant” — but what makes it so? It has three goals: offer culinary training, provide employment and ensure access by giving a discount to community residents.
The vision for the culinary program, still in the beginning stages of design, is a year-long curriculum that accepts as many as 12 trainees per “cycle.” The restaurant will teach aspiring chefs, farmers and restaurateurs in all aspects of the business by giving them rotating stints at the nearby farm, plus the restaurant’s front of the house and kitchen. Sousa will select apprentices via an open application process but expects to receive a large pool from the community and Braddock Youth Project.
With help from a teacher, students from Andrew Street High School tend to the Braddock Apiary.
Superior Motors also aims to be a source of Braddock jobs — Sousa intends to hire 50-75 percent of his staff locally. It’s also likely that the restaurant will spur immigration into Braddock as culinary professionals look to train or work for the eatery; the training program can provide a pipeline of talent for Superior Motors.
Another draw: free housing. The restaurant plans to offer it to trainees and employees, whether temporary or during their entire time in the program. The renovated convent currently houses visiting artists, entrepreneurs and community supporters but has room for everyone.
Sousa is adamant about not excluding anyone based on income. The vision for the community discount is sliding scale pricing — a 50-75 percent reduction, depending on income — that will ensure residents have an opportunity to enjoy the food. Other possible scenarios involve devoting pockets of time (such as the early dining hours) or certain days of the week to discounted dining.
Superior Motors will have low-cost access to produce in peak season from nearby Braddock Farms.
Pricing is an important balance that Superior Motors must take into consideration. With TOMS, the profit made from shoe sales ensures the company can donate a pair. The revenue Superior Motors makes from full-price meals enables Sousa to charge less to those who cannot pay full price.
With this clear vision, Superior Motors has no precedent. Maybe Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster in Harlem comes close, but Harlem is no Braddock. Maybe Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns takes advantage of the same farm-restaurant ecosystem, but it doesn’t quite have the same community mission. Maybe Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen has a similar mission to the youth training Superior Motors envisions, but no other initiative combines all the ambitious elements of Sousa’s would-be venture.
Hard at work at Braddock Farms
At its simplest, Superior Motors will be a destination restaurant that draws people to Braddock. At its best, the establishment will provide employment and training to the city’s residents and support a farm ecosystem that includes an apiary, rooftop garden and Braddock Farms. Superior Motors could be the anchor of Braddock, giving access to artful, thoughtful food made by residents using local produce.
As it is fully envisioned, Superior Motors will likely have a multiplier effect that will attract and catalyze more initiatives, continuing Braddock’s road to economic revival.
As a reader of this blog, you believe in radical ideas. Here is your chance to support one. The Kickstarter campaign is open until Jan. 6. Let’s make it happen.
Editor's Note: The previous Braddock Apiary cutline incorrectly stated that the individuals pictured were associated with the Braddock Youth Project. We've since updated the text to say that those in the photo are from Andrew Street High School.