“Community revitalization,” “Farm to table,” and now Chef Kevin Sousa is packing up and moving on to Mount Oliver to open his newest Mount Oliver Bodega Restaurant. The Post-Gazette write-up describes it as rustic cuisine. They’re breathing life into an old building. They’re on to new adventures. Sousa is excited about cooking again. If this sounds all too familiar, it’s because it is. Sousa has a pattern here. Find a hip upcoming neighborhood, get inspired, get funded, get bored, and get out.
There was the hot dog shop which ended in a lawsuit with his former Co-owners in East Liberty, then there was Garfield’s Salt of the Earth (NACL). I remember Salt fondly. I had never heard of Sousa before Salt of the Earth and I was excited to try his food as I heard so many great things about a guy who wanted to revitalize a community with his food. The restaurant was small and I wandered in because it was hip. I ordered a drink, and me and my friends looked at the menu which was written in chalk on the wall. I know it said “no substitutions” but I just needed them to remove the bacon from this particular dish. I inquired about my request and the waitstaff was kind and said they would ask the manager. Again, not knowing who he was at the time, Sousa came out and said, “no substitutions either take it or leave.” I never met a chef that didn’t want money but I said, “I guess I’ll leave.” Sousa left Salt in February 2014 to focus on Superior Motors which finally opened its doors in 2017.
Named one of Time Magazine’s Top 100 Places to visit Superior Motors was worth the three-year wait. After visiting Braddock, Sousa felt “ a deep connection to the town” and coincidentally in the same article he stated that his goal wasn’t to “come in, open a restaurant, and move on.” It took three years to get Superior Motors off the ground and it became one of the largest Kickstarters funded. Who knew in only 4 years Sousa would get bored and move on?
Superior Motors hired people from the community and when they shut their doors during the pandemic they weren’t certain that it would be the last time they would be there with Sousa. However, the company did raise $20,000 via GoFundMe to help the staff make it through the pandemic.
As I used to be a neighbor to the restaurant, I would frequently stop by especially after events. It was cool they offered a 50 percent discount to Braddock Residents although most residents have never been to the restaurant. The only way I could describe my feelings towards this pattern is Anthony Bourdain’s words of coming to Superior Motors as “The Wire Experience.” People from all over came to this restaurant to experience Braddock and drive through the community to observe almost like one does when they check out a zoo.
Now that Sousa has distanced himself from yet another project, my questions are, what happens when he gets bored again? Does he not realize that his decisions affect jobs in these communities that he briefly invests in, and what was he doing all this time if he wasn’t inspired by food? If I was a community and saw this pattern I would have trust issues and ask for more investment in the form of what value are you adding to a community beyond food? It’s easy to gather people but it is incredibly hard to build community.
Hopefully, the future of the former Superior Motors building is bright. Hopefully, the next tenant, restaurant, person, organization, or business that goes in there starts with community at its core. Ask the community what it is they need and invest in that. Anything else is just white noise and just another song and dance.
Interview after interview I get told that Braddock is rescued and I smile and say, “tell that to the people that live here and are barely making it paycheck to paycheck. If this is rescued I would hate to know your definition of drowning.”