Here’s an obvious fact: Pittsburgh’s identity was, and still is, deeply entwined with the steel industry. After all, we’re nicknamed the Steel City, which we’re reminded of whenever prime time football comes to town and floods our televisions with images of steel mills, by the numerous Pittsburgh-related projects that are given names referencing steel (for example, our own Steel of the Week), and whenever we pass through any of the formerly-thriving steel towns.
But those of us who have lived in, worked for, and loved this city for any significant amount of time know how very much more there is to Pittsburgh. And most importantly, we recognize the enormous potential of what it still can become.
That’s why Pittsburgh is responsible for the most-funded restaurant project on Kickstarter to date– local chef Kevin Sousa‘s Superior Motors in Braddock, Pennsylvania.
The story of Braddock is woeful. The once-thriving town, home of both Andrew Carnegie’s first steel mill and his first public library, was hit hard in the 1970s and ’80s by the collapse of the steel industry and a rising drug and gang problem. 90% of the population eventually fled the area and much of what once was now is simply deserted. The state of Pennsylvania has declared Braddock a “distressed municipality” since the ’80s.
Then came “America’s coolest mayor”: John Fetterman. The dynamic and engaged mayor has received national recognition for his unwavering commitment to rebuilding and reinventing the town– and most importantly, for his faith that a better Braddock is within reach and worth fighting for.
With an emphasis on improving the lives of the borough’s young people, Fetterman has attracted a promising creative and artistic force to Braddock. While there’s much work still to be done, testaments to his success include: the conversion of an abandoned church into the Braddock Community Center, home to the Braddock Youth Project; Braddock Farms, which grows organic produce on 10 acres of repurposed over-grown lots and is tended to by area kids; the opening of the studio UnSmoke Artspace; and much-anticipated brewery startup The Brew Gentlemen.
Sousa’s Superior Motors hopes to bring more of that needed revitalization to Braddock. Named for the former car dealership it will occupy, the restaurant is nothing short of revolutionary. Braddock currently doesn’t have any operating restaurants and Sousa is not only looking to open one in the area, but to engage and drive the community with its operation.
Truly exemplifying fresh, local, and farm-to-table, most of the produce will be sourced from Braddock Farms, as well as the thousands of square feet in planned rooftop gardens and greenhouses. The nearby apiary, which provides beekeeping training to local youth, will provide honey, and local chickens will be the source of eggs for the restaurant.
But most impressive is what Sousa plans to do for the actual community. Superior Motors will not only offer Braddock residents with substantial dining discounts but also free professional culinary training and opportunities. A hostel located next door will be used to offer no-cost housing for some employees who are selected to train and learn at the restaurant. Sousa hopes Superior Motors will feed and strengthen the current community ecosystem of local businesses, residents, and visitors.
So on Sunday, with less than a day and a half left in the Superior Motors Kickstarter campaign and still $70,000 short of a goal of $250,000, anticipation grew. Was there the possibility that this innovative project, set in a town we all want to see succeed, would not be funded?
That’s when Pittsburghers truly came together. Retweets, posts, emails, and articles. The purported power of social media, in action. “Kickstarter” was trending on Twitter in Pittsburgh, behind only “Downton Abbey” in popularity. People watched the donation figure slowly climb with the fervor of a hotly contested election. Sousa himself rightfully couldn’t sleep.
— Kevin Sousa (@sousapgh) January 6, 2014
Because of this final push by the community, Superior Motors not only reached and surpassed its goal with nearly a day to spare, but has received an additional $40,000 grant from Rob Stephany of The Heinz Endowments. Sousa emotionally thanked the nearly 2,000 supporters “for reminding [him] what an altogether inspiring place it is that [he is] lucky enough to call home.” He even admitted that we made him cry.
When indie rock band Frightened Rabbit came to town for the Thrival Music Festival in September, they commented on how much they enjoy playing here because Pittsburghers genuinely love their city and are so proud to be a part of it. How right they were.
We’re a tight-knit, thoughtful, and involved community that genuinely believes in bettering our city, be it through the successful and established medical and education sectors, a vibrant and innovative startup community, or the booming food and drink scene (Bon Appetit recently named Pittsburgh its “next big food town”). Even Lindsay, the creator of I heart PGH, had her cross-country train trip with the Millennial Trains Project successfully funded because of the incredible generosity of Pittsburghers.
We all see something worthwhile in Superior Motors. Something that will better Pittsburgh and Braddock. Something else to prove that we’re more than just a former steel town. And we’re helping to make that a reality.
The Kickstarter campaign is over but follow Kevin Sousa on Twitter for updates on Superior Motors.