For restaurant industry veterans Kevin Sousa, Megan Sousa and Chris Clark, the end of summer marks a new beginning.
The team — officially known as Tribute Hospitality Group — just opened Mount Oliver Bodega, a boutique wine shop, bar and restaurant at 225 Brownsville Road in Mt. Oliver. Operating hours are 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday and 4 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. You can make a reservation online.
Weeks from now and a few miles away, Arlington Beverage Club (ABC), a church social hall turned public bar, will reactivate in Allentown. The Tribute Hospitality Group, which partnered with real estate investment company RE360, also will offer event planning and catering.
“Tribute Hospitality Group is just that; a tribute to everything we’ve done in the past,” says Kevin Sousa, the chef behind the former Salt of the Earth and Union Pig & Chicken as well as Superior Motors, the Braddock restaurant where Clark served as general manager.
From the outside, Mount Oliver Bodega looks small and unassuming. The storefront once housed Kullman’s Bakery for decades, and was later occupied by The Bakery Society Pittsburgh.
Executive Chef Jonah Frazier, Kevin Sousa’s longtime friend and associate, is returning to Pittsburgh from New York City after a 10-year absence to helm the site’s enormous, third-floor kitchen. Frazier will be joined by other culinary collaborators who will create an ever-changing, vegan-forward menu of simple, clean food.
“Some of the best times I’ve ever spent in a kitchen were with Kevin,” Frazier says. “I’m excited to get back with a crew that’s hyped about what they’re doing and I look forward to trying all the new restaurants.”
Sousa, who recently left Superior Motors but will stay on as a consultant, is taking a step back from the daily cooking grind to nurture his passion for pizza.
Like most people, he ate a lot of slices during the lockdown. While there are plenty of great pizzerias in Pittsburgh, he missed the Sicilian-style, thick crust, rectangular pies he grew up eating in the basement of Mother of Sorrows Church in McKees Rocks.
Sousa experimented with sourdough, sauces and hard cheeses to perfect his own variation on those memorable meals.
Mount Oliver Bodega will offer three varieties to start: McKees Rocks Red, a white pizza topped with fresh veggies and edible flowers, and a pesto-based green pizza. They taste great served piping hot, at room temperature or straight out of the refrigerator the following day.
Diners will be able to sit at a communal table in the kitchen (a sun-drenched room anchored by an enormous, 75-year-old rotating baker’s oven named Big Rhonda), grab a seat on the mezzanine level “wine cave” or enjoy the ambiance of the main dining room and retail shop.
When workers started stripping away a century’s worth of wallpaper and coats of paint, the Tribute crew realized it was a chaotically beautiful surface that showcases the building’s decorative history, so they left it as is. The same thing happened when they pulled up the old floor and discovered a terrazzo surface.
Carpenter Steve Bucciero built shelves, tables, chairs and a bar out of maple, giving the entire place a rustic, earthy scent.
A sense of smell will also come into play when customers are trying the wines. Mount Oliver Bodega will offer an eclectic assortment of boutique vino, including alcohol-free brands.
Meg Sousa, a former wine rep in Brooklyn, wants to connect people with a wine that’s perfect for their palate or what they happen to be having for dinner that night. In that regard, Mount Oliver Bodega will be an educational facility where novices can ask questions without feeling intimidated by industry jargon or big price tags. Spirit-free cocktails also will be a cornerstone of the operation.
“Meg has a beautiful approach to wine that makes it extremely accessible, and the pizza has a lot of depth to match with that wine,” Clark says.
Clark knows good pizza. Earlier this year, he helped launch Doughbar Pizzeria & Rotisserie on the South Side and is now focused on getting Mount Oliver Bodega and ABC off the ground.
ABC, housed in the former St. George Lyceum at 1226 Arlington Ave., is a boozy relic from the past. The no-frills, shot-and-a-beer bar looks like a 1970s-era rec room, complete with faux wood paneling and a drop ceiling.
Folks packed the place for a sneak peek on New Year’s Eve in 2019, but waterline issues and the pandemic have kept it shuttered.
In addition to beer, ABC will serve spirit-free cocktails alongside classic ones. On the food front, patrons can expect unpretentious pub grub courtesy of nearby Mount Oliver Bodega, eats from the on-site kitchenette and potluck-style spreads from a bunch of slow cookers brimming with social hall staples like chipped ham barbecue.
“We’re making the food that makes us happy,” Kevin Sousa says.