Dine and shoot? Braddock Chew leaders leaving Sousa

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When Michelin-starred chef Kevin Sousa chose Braddock as the site for his new restaurant in 2013, it drew substantial fanfare – and investment from foundations and the general public – with a vow to give steel town residents a helping hand. distress a central role in the gastronomic establishment. .

But as the restaurant industry struggles amid the coronavirus pandemic, Sousa has announced that he has parted ways with Braddock restaurant, Superior Motors, to pursue new interests elsewhere. Although he said he would continue to consult with Superior Motors management, Braddock mayor Chardaé Jones said Sousa’s departure left his community down.

“It’s kind of like investing in a community by hiring people who are in the community and then pulling the rug out for them once they get comfortable,” Jones said. “This is what makes me angry. A lot of [residents who were employed by Superior Motors] come from backgrounds where people wouldn’t hire them because they had a criminal history.

Jones acknowledged that Sousa was “so gracious” to hire these workers. But she said that Superior Motors, which received over $ 190,000 from the federal paycheck protection program at the start of the pandemic, “should have remained open, and [Sousa] I should have remained a chef.

Other civic leaders point out that Braddock has other strengths. And Sousa’s restaurant should continue in one form or another.

Superior Motors’ investor representative, attorney Gregg Kander, said he and other investors in the company remain committed to creating jobs for residents of Braddock. It is possible that Superior Motors will reopen, but Kander added that investors could try a different culinary approach under a different name.

“We don’t have the final plan yet,” he said. “We are actively looking for alternatives now.”

“Obviously, if [Sousa] would have stayed, things would have been easier. We were doing fine right before he left, ”Kander said. “But I also understand the passion of chefs and artists [for doing] different things and to [move] on. So you don’t want to push someone into doing something they’re not keen on doing.

‘I saw the light’

Sousa raised over a quarter of a million dollars on Kickstarter to finance Superior Motors, which is located in a former car dealership across from US Steel’s Edgar Thomson plant. The restaurant, which opened in 2017, has also obtained financial support from local foundations.

Donors were drawn to Sousa’s plan to train and hire local residents, and provide board and lodging for interns and volunteers. The chef has sought to promote sustainability in part by sourcing ingredients from a rooftop greenhouse as well as an urban farm down the street. He invited the neighbors to dinner at a reduced price.

Three years after opening, Superior Motors had achieved much of the Sousa vision, while attracting customers from across the region and beyond.

It doesn’t matter, Sousa announcement on Instagram last month that he will no longer be involved in the day-to-day operations of Superior Motors. Instead, he plans to serve as a “guiding force and consultant” for the restaurant while he launches new bars in Mount Oliver and Allentown.

In his Instagram post, Sousa said he made the decision after coming out of a period of “utter chaos and utter darkness” which he suggested led him to have thoughts. suicidal.

“If it hadn’t been for the love of and for my amazing daughter, I can’t honestly say I would be here writing these words,” wrote the restaurateur. “As the darkness lifted and I began to recognize myself as a person instead of a commodity, I saw the light. “

Still, Sousa’s exit casts a shadow for Braddock officials, who note that the chef has a model to launch trendy restaurants in troubled neighborhoods, then to leave these establishments on shaky feet several years later.

Between 2010 and 2012, Sousa opened Salt of the Earth in the Garfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh, as well as Station Street Hot Dogs and Union Pig and Chicken in East Liberty. By 2014, he left all three companies, and they were quickly closed.

“Kevin has a bit of a background,” said Braddock Borough Councilor Tina Doose. While her departure was “somewhat expected,” she said, “of course, I’m worried” about what that might mean for Superior Motors.

“But I’ll also say I’m hopeful,” Doose continued. “When I think of the ownership and leadership that exists [at Superior Motors], I really believe there is a will to continue, whether with or without Kevin Sousa.

“There is more to Braddock”

Doose also expressed hope for Braddock’s future as a community. The borough is working with the Allegheny County Economic Development Office to rehabilitate dozens of properties in its commercial district, she noted. And it will soon form a chamber of commerce with neighboring municipalities to support businesses in a region that has yet to recover from the decline of steel.

“Several people … are moving [these initiatives] before, ”Doose said. “I passed Kevin Sousa and I hope another wonderful chef [or] the opportunity presents itself to Superior Motors. But even with that, it shouldn’t be just a cult of personality. … There’s more to Braddock. There is a synergy. There is a commitment. And it’s not just one person.

Superior Motors investor Kander said the restaurant’s future depends largely on when investors are confident they can find enough workers to hire. Restaurants across the country are grappling with a labor shortage as COVID-19 continues to hamper the industry.

“We are in this period of transition [with Superior Motors] that we only have one chance, so we want to take our time and make sure we get it right, ”Kander said.

But he credits the restaurant’s success to leading it to dedicate its own resources to the community. He also helped finance a 37-unit artist residency located in the heart of Braddock. The eight-story building, which once housed the Ohringer Home Furniture Company, is fully occupied, according to Kander.

Still, Chris Briem, a regional economist at the Center for Social and Urban Research at the University of Pittsburgh, said true revitalization in Braddock will require more profound changes than increased investment in business and housing.

Braddock Steel Industry Manufacturing (5) .JPG

“The issues at Braddock, especially the economic issues at Braddock, are pretty significant,” Briem said. “And it’s not just Braddock. It’s certainly a lot of areas in the Mon Valley that haven’t seen an economic rebound… really since before the decline of the steel industry.

Briem noted that Braddock’s population peaked at around 21,000 in 1920. Since then it has fallen to 1,900 people – a 90% drop over the past century.

” At the heart of [such decline] is [that] we are an extremely fragmented region “that is divided into more local governments than any other region in the United States,” Briem said. “These are communities that were all created for industries or factories, many of which don’t even exist anymore.”

Without the tax revenues that come with a larger population, Briem said, municipalities like Braddock lack the fiscal capacity to fund basic public services. He said the best bet for communities to overcome this challenge is to form a structure or entity through which they can pool their resources. The objective would be to “build kinds of new towns” with transport infrastructure allowing residents to access jobs concentrated elsewhere.

“But until [these communities] can maintain all the services that people expect for a decent quality of life, let alone a decent school system, so I think all of these other efforts will eventually fail, ”Briem said.



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