Kevin Sousa outside Superior Motors. Photo by Brian Conway.

It’s less than two weeks out from the grand opening of Kevin Sousa’s long-awaited Braddock restaurant, Superior Motors, and the place is bustling with activity. Delivery men push dollies past laborers wielding pipe. The barstools and poured concrete booths are in place but the tables and chairs are still wrapped in plastic, awaiting silverware and hungry guests.

At the center of it all is Sousa, doling out assignments and signing forms in between answering questions about one of the most anticipated restaurant openings in recent Pittsburgh memory.

One week earlier, surrounded by his family dogs, Edgar and Kato, Sousa is in good spirits. “Quite frankly,” he says, “I’ve never been happier, or more excited.”

The story has been told many times over in recent years: Pittsburgh’s rock star chef and James Beard Award semi-finalist broke Kickstarter records in vowing to create a community-minded restaurant ecosystem centered inside a former car dealership in Braddock. Reconstruction costs soared, and for a while the project seemed at risk of sputtering out. But with the help of a new investor, Gregg Kander, the ambitious project will open to the public July 15, after three years of starts and stops.

And yes, he plans to honor all the Kickstarter pledges.

Grow Pittsburgh’s Braddock Farms.
Grow Pittsburgh’s Braddock Farms.

“The time that we took to open—I don’t want to use cliches like ‘blessing in disguise’—but it was the time that we needed to get it right. And I think we are getting it right.”

As far as cuisine is concerned he’s “never been able to stay under one umbrella,” says Sousa. which indicates that the menu should please fans of his most successful and celebrated restaurant project, Salt of the Earth. Sousa opened that in Garfield in 2010 to wide acclaim for its innovative approach to seasonally-driven, New American cuisine.

As much of the food as possible at Superior Motors will be sourced locally or regionally from small farms. In the case of Grow Pittsburgh‘s nearby Braddock Farms, or the rooftop greenhouse or on-site apiary, it’s hyper-local. They’ve even hired a forager who will scour Western PA for the choicest mushrooms, berries and herbs.

Since the Kickstarter for a “community restaurant & farm ecosystem” was announced in 2013, Sousa has worked to integrate the restaurant into the fabric of the community. Shortly after the restaurant finds its bearings, he will launch a free culinary training program for six to nine local students, and Braddock residents will dine for half-off on twice-monthly community nights.

A staff of 24 began training in late June. Half of the employees are from Braddock and surrounding neighborhoods like Rankin and North Braddock. That’s not including Braddock resident Chris Clark, the new general manger pulled in from wd~50 in New York, or Sousa himself, who moved to Braddock in 2014 with wife, Holly, and two daughters.

Chef and Braddock resident Kevin Sousa with family dogs Edgar and Kato.

“A lot of people made moves from comfortable jobs to move to Braddock and be a part of this thing that we’re trying to create,” he says.

One particularly distinctive element of Superior Motors is that it shares the building with barebones productions‘ Black Box Theater. The 75-seat theater is barebones’ first—they typically post up at the New Hazlett—and it should open by September. They plan to host two full productions at the new theater by the end of the year.

True to their name, barebones hosted a pair of performances in the space before renovations were made in 2015.

“We had total sell-outs and had to add performances,” says barebones’ Artistic Director, Patrick Jordan. “So when people ask me if I think people will follow us out to Braddock, the answer is ‘Yes, of course.’”

Will Superior Motors be considered a “destination restaurant?” Sousa scoffs at the idea: “It’s a valid and pertinent question but not something that keeps me up at night. I really think we’re creating something here with staying power and longevity.”

After years of not having a restaurant to call his own, the celebrated chef cannot wait to show the world what he has spent the past three years cooking up.

“I don’t foresee me going anywhere or starting any other projects,” says Sousa. “There’s enough here and it’s a dynamic enough project that we can continue to make it grow and become something special.”

Superior Motors is located at 1211 Braddock Ave. in Braddock, Pa., and is currently accepting reservations on their website for July 15 and beyond.

Brian Conway

Brian Conway is a writer and photographer whose articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune and local publications. In his free time, he operates Tripsburgh. Brian lives in the South Side.