Under the Hood of Superior Motors with Kevin Sousa - Carney

Under the Hood of Superior Motors with Kevin Sousa

If you’ve ever been anywhere near Pittsburgh, you’ve probably heard of Kevin Sousa. He’s a world-renowned chef, has started a number of successful restaurants, and has put Pittsburgh on the map as a culinary destination.

His most recent restaurant, Superior Motors, has received accolades from The New York Times, Time Magazine, and more.

But, we’re not here to talk about that.

Initially, when I was looking for someone to interview for the latest podcast episode, I was hoping to find someone with a good ol’ blue-collar “No one ever gave me nothin” come up story and then… I came across Kevin Sousa.

I knew he was a well-known chef in my hometown and had been featured in the New York Times and Food and Wine magazine but beyond that, I didn’t know much about him as a person.

Doing my research, I inevitably came across everything you need to know about his career, but as I learned more about his mentality and vision, I become far more interested in Kevin, the human than Kevin, the chef.

In our conversation, we talked about his most difficult moment in business, how he embraces the process, as well as the hard-working mindset he is cultivating at Superior Motors.

Oh, and just a quick note: Superior Motors just made the list of Time Magazine’s “World’s Greatest Places” to experience in 2018. And take it from me…it truly is a world class place worth visiting.

Do the Hard Thing is a new podcast from Carney. We interview entrepreneurs, marketers, and creatives who are doing extraordinary things that are “out of the norm.” Tune in to episode 3 with Kevin Sousa from Superior Motors:

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Transcript

Nick Comanici: When you think about the hardest thing you’ve ever done, that’s put you where you are today, what do you think that would be?

Kevin Sousa: Yeah, I mean, there was certainly a seemingly insurmountable point, and it’s very publicly documented. So, I had … Background for those out there who don’t know. So, at one point, I had a restaurant called Salt of the Earth, it opened in 2009, it was very successful critically and financially, it was great, it was my first baby. And, a beautiful restaurant, my business partners were architects, the design was beautiful, the food, the staff, we put together this really wonderful thing.And, after a little bit of time, I just started to see that I wasn’t … My partners and I just didn’t see eye to eye on where we wanted the business to go. I wanted, very much, to get more community involved, more engaged with the community, we were working with a local farm who did a lot of social outreach and community outreach programs. And so, we started working with them directly, and we would go up to this urban farm and work with young kids. But, basically what it boils down to, is that doesn’t make any money and that pulls one of the biggest resources away from what does make money, which is the restaurant, that biggest resource is me, or the sous chef at the time, who was also very interested in those things.So, knowing that probably, eventually that relationship would probably end, I started a couple other little side adventures just on a bootstrap. I had no money, but I wanted to plan … In my mind, I was planning for the future of maybe not being involved with Salt of the Earth. So, I opened a barbecue joint in East Liberty, in a building that had been abandoned, I mean, it was a business but the tenants had just left, they skipped their lease, it had been empty for about a year, it was an old barbecue place. So, I wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, I was trying to just reintroduce … And, this is East Liberty long before any of this, East Liberty was what it is now. And, this was on the Home Depot side of Penn Avenue.And so,I always thought that I could probably do pretty good barbecue, so we got that up and running. And within the same week, we took over what used to be Station Street Hot Dogs, again, over in the East Liberty part of town, over behind Target, so it was in this weird little cut. And, we started with hot dogs, we were doing these really great, our recipe hot dogs, really good buns, and then we started doing all this funky shit. And then we just eliminated the word hot dogs from the … and we just started calling it Station Street, so then that allowed us to do tacos and … we were just doing street food, we were just doing really well executed home-made street food. But, we didn’t have any capital to start, I had no money in the bank, we were living just week to week, I was begging and borrowing just to make sure everyone’s getting paid. So, long story short, one day John Fetterman, Mayor of Braddock, comes into Station Street. And I’d seen him before, I knew who he was, I mean he’s pretty recognizable, he’s seven feet tall, he’s bald and with a goatee.

Nick Comanici: I’ve seen him any time he goes to the square across the street.

Kevin Sousa: But, he came in with a mutual friend, and the mutual friend introduced us and he was like, “Have you ever been to Braddock?”, and I was like, “Yeah, when I was a kid, we used to party down at the Carrie Furnace, but before it was a landmark.”, and so he was like, “Do you wanna come down? I’ll buy you a coffee and we’ll just go for a walk, talk about the possibility of what you think Braddock needs.”. And so, we went for a walk, I fell in love with Braddock immediately. I mean, I grew up in McKees Rocks, which is … So, Braddock’s East about three or four miles from the city, and McKees Rocks is West, three or four miles from the city, very similar. [00:06:00] McKees Rocks wasn’t a mill town, it was surrounded by mill towns, but it was a railroad town, I mean it was just … Some of the biggest railroad yards on the planet are there, I mean that’s where all the steel was getting shipped through.

Nick Comanici: So, was that what drew you to Braddock? Is it felt like home?

Kevin Sousa: It did, and it felt right. And so, I had always had this in the back of my mind, this idea of wanting to do more than just put fancy food on plates, but I didn’t have a … I had gone to college a couple times, dropped out, I didn’t have a degree, I didn’t really know, ever, what I wanted to do, but I knew that outreach was something that I wanted to be involved with. But, in my mind, the only people who could do that were people that had trust funds, or people that were funded somehow and that didn’t have to worry about paying their bills. And, I mean, that was foolish of me to think that, ’cause then I started to meet people through this process of people who were involved, and they didn’t have trust funds and they were making shit happen. So, John and I went for a walk, we didn’t really hatch any brilliant ideas that day. I went home and sat on it, talked with my wife about it and we went down and started looking around and kind of just … I would go down at night and just kind of take in the town, and I was like, “Yeah, wanna do something, I don’t know what it is.”. And then, we started looking for property to possibly live down there, I was like, “If we’re gonna be involved with something like this, I need to move there.”. And so, we own a house in Polish Hill, we still have it, we rent it out.
But anyway, moved down there and then John and I started developing this idea of a restaurant that works really closely with the local farms. And at that time, I volunteered with Braddock Youth Project in the summertime, working with kids on farms, you’re just cooking with them and stuff like [00:08:00] that. And, that kind of was the impetus of the idea of maybe starting a job training program that was supported by the restaurant, and vice versa. So, we start a job training program or some sort of mentorship program, and then maybe those people can end up working in the restaurant.

Nick Comanici: So, you’ll train them even if they don’t end up working at the restaurant?

Kevin Sousa: Absolutely, yeah. It just so happens that right now, that everyone who was a part of the training, works in the restaurant, because it’s good pay, and it’s close, and they’ve already committed to the job training, to showing up for the program. So, it’s worked out really well.
And so, our next step is … I’m jumping ahead here but, is to try and grow that, and find the way to get a grant writer, just further engage in the non-profit world and figure out how we make this piece of this weird puzzle that we’ve created bigger-

Nick Comanici: Absolutely.

Kevin Sousa: Well, I think it started with, was there a negative moment, so this whole story is leading to that. So, I met John, started to get involved in Braddock, and then we kind of just poked some of the banks, some of the local financial institutions, just to see if there was any chance that they would come at us with an investment, and nobody did. So, this is 11 to 12, crowdsourcing was just really taking off, so we’re like, “Let’s try a Kickstarter Campaign.”, and at first it was like, “Oh, let’s go for 50 grand, it’ll be a good test market, maybe if we can get that, then it will show some interest.”, and we’re like, “Well, 50 grand is nothing  to build a restaurant.”, so we … And, on paper, the most successful restaurant project, at that point, was they raise $80,000, we went for 250. We launched it December 5th, it ended January 6th, the day before January 6th, we were at about a $160-70,000, something like that, and we were having a party at John Fetterman’s home in Braddock, basically [00:10:30] just to say thank you, a concession party basically, we didn’t make it happen. The news showed up and then there was this weird ground swell of … The ticker, my phone was going nuts. And, by the end of that party and by the time everyone left, it was two in the morning, John and I, and Patrick Jordan who introduced us, we were up just watching the computer, and we were at 220, 230, 240.
And then, I went home, I lived right up the street, and 5:30, six in the morning, my phone started … it made this crazy noise that I had never heard and we had to go. And so, that same day, it was a Monday, that same day Peduto, who was a friend, was sworn in and he had a big party down at the Heinz.
Anyway, long story short, we hit 310,000, which was huge, it was the biggest food Kickstarter thing ever. So, that was the beginning of it. And, at the same  time, I was trying to rid myself of these financial burdens that I had created for myself, I went into debt, I had some tax issues, I had some debts that I had to get paid off. A reporter saw this as an opportunity, they assumed that there was some sort of malfeasance, something going on between the Kickstarter and my other personal things. So, I opened up the books, gave them all the information, there as nothing there. So, regardless, there was an article written that was just innuendo without any substance, I didn’t do any … They never even accused me of doing anything wrong, they just wrote this very, kind of …

Nick Comanici: It was just filling content.

Kevin Sousa: It was just filling content, and it was above on a Sunday.

Nick Comanici: Absolutely.

Kevin Sousa: Because people knew who I was and they wanted to think the worst, but there was nothing there. So, a lot of people went after me, but then the really comforting thing was a lot of the city got behind me, and at one point the Post-Gazette was … the webmaster was deleting positive comments. It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen, it was like they were actively doing damage control.
But, that was the beginning, that was actually the push that I needed. So that was … I hit rock bottom, mentally, I  just hit this place. And, it just so happened that article came out the day before I was meeting with a local financing organization, which I won’t name, to discuss … ‘Cause we had money, we had this Kickstarter, this egg, that nobody wants to be the first money on the table. So, we had this money on the table, and this organization had all but said, “We wanna be involved.”, and then this article came out and it cast a shadow, even though there was nothing there and we had opened the books, publicly, it cast this shadow. And the writer, I think, had an axe to grind with me from years ago.
So, it took three years to recover from that, and we just kept our heads down and just kept doing events.

Nick Comanici: So, I was wondering about that. So, in that interim were you making a living doing pop-ups?

Kevin Sousa: Yeah, I was cooking out of my house, I made, basically, supper club and frankly, it was great, because I get to do really experimental food and people … I mean, I was preaching to the choir at that point, it was people that I had cooked for many, many times at Salt of the Earth, or people who wanted something really special. And, I was doing it in my house, so I have this pretty cool warehouse space, I have a commercial kitchen and a big open room.
So it was a nice interim, professionally, but I was really suffering trying to … I was really under public scrutiny, everybody was … I couldn’t leave the house. I’ve always shaved my head, worn glasses, I’ve always looked the same for my whole career. This year, I grew a beard, grew my hair out, stopped wearing glasses, started wearing a baseball hat, I was tired of being recognized. And, I would go to Costco and I would see people see me, and I could hear the words like, “When’s the restaurant gonna open? When’s the restaurant … “., it got to the point where I would have anxiety just leaving the house. And I neglected to say that, also after the Kickstarter Campaign, because of the job training program and the non-profit piece of the … the split of the for-profit, non-profit, we did get some support from the Heinz Foundation, the Laurel Foundation, but that was all going towards the job training program and that was just in limbo, and that money only existed if we got to the end. And so, long story short, we met a guy, Gregg Kander, who is a saint, he was interested in the project. John organized a dinner for him and a few of his other friends, he organized a small group of potential investors, I cooked for them, explained to them what I wanted to do, both in the restaurant and in the training, and the kind of community engagement, and he went all in. And, not only did he help us financially, but he was the driving force that we needed, he was the thing that I never had, and the reason … Because I didn’t have someone like him in my corner, I’d had no idea what I was doing and-

Nick Comanici: From a business, financial standpoint?

Kevin Sousa: From a business, yeah. And he was just the driving force, he just made things happen.  And, things that I couldn’t understand how they happened were very easy for him. And so, I knew how to run a restaurant, I knew how to build something that I thought people would like. And so, my general manager Chris, who is a near and dear friend, moved back from New York, he was working at WD-50, which is a Michelin starred restaurant, he grew up in [Carnegie 00:16:52], he moved to Braddock. Over the course of a few years, we put together this … all the details and everything. Gregg met [00:17:00] him and he was sold, and he’s a huge part of Braddock right now. And then we got help from the Enterprise Zone Corporation of Braddock and just, here we are.

Nick Comanici: That’s awesome. I mean, I think the business side is interesting, right? So, a lot of people of have a passion, whether it’s art or music, but it’s easy to push that side off, right? ‘Cause you get so focused on doing what you’re doing really well, right?

Kevin Sousa: Yeah.

Nick Comanici: You forget about the business aspect. I was just listening to a podcast, and it’s the lead singer from PX. And the podcast, surprisingly, starts turning into them talking about Facebook ads, their email campaigns, I’m like, this is a lot, this is really different than it would of been back in the day, right?

Kevin Sousa: Yeah.

Nick Comanici: It was-

Kevin Sousa: And it was flyers and-

Nick Comanici: Is that similar now, would you say, in your world where you do have to think about those things more than you ever have? From a marketing standpoint?

Kevin Sousa: Absolutely. And, I was lucky enough, early on, before Salt of the Earth opened, I met a guy named Jay Finelli, he owns a local company called Cotton Bureau, they do really cool … He was a web designer, and they moved into the clothing space, his wife at one point worked for ModCloth, they do all this really cool shit. But, he was a graphic designer and he was like, “This is 2007, 2008, you have to be on Instagram.”, or no, “You have to be on Twitter.”. And so he opened my Twitter account and that’s how I’m like … all my stuff is sousapgh, and he made me do it, he was like, “You have to just understand this and get … “. And so, I was lucky enough that he was there.
And so, over the course of the last 10 years, I’ve created this … People know who I am and they’re interested a little bit, at least locally. And so, I mean, it’s super important, but that said, I realize [00:19:00] that I couldn’t do it to the fullest on my own. And, early on in my career as an owner, I just wasn’t willing to delegate and accept the help and then I learned, through failure, that just the best thing I can do is surround myself with as many talented people as I could, maybe people that were better than I was at many things.

Nick Comanici: Absolutely.

Kevin Sousa: But I knew I had a vision, and the only way to get that to the finish line was to bring in a bunch more talent. And that’s the key to what we’ve accomplished in Braddock, is let everyone do their thing that they’re really good at and that they’re passionate about, and find out what that thing is and just hand it off to them, “Alright, that’s yours now.”. Or, one of the best sous chefs I’ve ever worked with, Jack Martin, he’s very passionate about changing the menu frequently, and we’ll run ideas past each other and if I clear something, if he’s like, “What do you think about this?”, I’m like, “Yeah, go do it. And if it sucks, we’ll know, because people won’t buy it.”, and it’s like that. And, Chris Clark, the general manager, he wanted to do vinyl, he was like, “I wanna spin vinyl every night, I want that to be our thing.”, so we have this little old window, it’s not even a window, it’s like an old junction box that we left in the wall, ’cause it was this historic, weird looking remnant, and we put, whatever record it is, we’ll put the cover in there so the dining room can see what’s on. And, we have this huge vinyl collection and it’s awesome.

Nick Comanici: That’s amazing.

Kevin Sousa: I mean, it’s awesome. And, one of our captains, [Anthony 00:20:50], he’s like, “Kevin.”, he’s this really interesting guy, he’s like, “I love the vinyl, and it’s so cool, but I gotta say it creates [00:21:00] an emergency every 20 minutes.”, he was like, “We’ll have a line of people and I’ve gotta flip a record.”. And I’m like, “Yeah, but it’s a trade. It’s a trade-off.”.
I’m searching for this key to success or this one thing, and I would say that it’s just trust people and delegate, and don’t take yourself too seriously, and … I don’t know-

Nick Comanici: I think-

Kevin Sousa: It all sounds very hippy-dippy, but letting go of the ego stuff.

Nick Comanici: For the longest time, I tried to figure out what it was that I was chasing, and I think we might have this in common, I brought it down to one thing, I’m obsessed with the process, right? So, if the process isn’t there, I start to lose interest, so it’s almost like there isn’t really an end I’m looking for, it’s just the process of doing it.

Kevin Sousa: Yeah, I just got chills, ’cause that’s … People have said that  to me, people are like, “You have really good ideas.”. In some places, they were insinuating that I don’t follow through, ’cause Salt of the Earth was pretty short lived and I had two other short lived things, and I take that criticism as being constructive. But, I do enjoy the process. The couple years leading up to the opening of the restaurant, talking about all the details and trying to troubleshoot all the different things, it’s very enjoyable, and now the process has changed, the evolution process has begun and now I’m really enjoying that. And, it all comes from having a bunch of really intelligent, passionate voices kind of in every ear at all times.

Nick Comanici: When I was doing some research for this podcast, and going through your story, one of the things was … I know we’ll end up talking about your career, [00:23:00] but I’m interested in Kevin Sousa as a human, because I feel like we have this in common, where it’s just … A lot of people would look at me and some of the things I’ve done from an entrepreneurial standpoint, as like, “Yeah, you just get bored with it and you move on. You’re good at starting, but you never finish.”, in the same way. It would often kind of feel … Well, it felt like failure, but now I’ve started to realize it’s embracing that process. And I think, like you said before, when you’re hiring  people, kind of putting them in a place where they can succeed, right? What is it that makes them tick? Here, our founder, [Rob Carnie 00:23:41], I mean that’s one of the biggest things is, he let’s us do what we do best, and he knows for me to thrive I have to constantly be doing something different, maybe it’s internally with the brand, the company, or it’s even on my own, but he knows that’s what drives me, and I [00:24:00] need that.

Kevin Sousa: Well I think that’s what creates strong business, I mean, and happy people. I mean, who wants to go to work and be dictated? Have their day dictated to them every day? There has to be a certain level of latitude. Everybody needs to be able to do their own thing when they get there. And I mean, of course at times, my experience, or Chris’s experience, or Jack’s experience, we have to step in and  edit. But for the most part, the evolution of this project is dependent on the people that are involved, from the students involved in the job training program, what they want to do, maybe that’s the next thing, is what is their interest? How do we build equity for people who have invested so much without resources to make their own thing happen? Maybe that’s where we’re headed,  but who knows? We’re not headed … Right now, we’re basking in the glory of doing something that we’re all enjoying.

Nick Comanici: And I think that’s … When I started to read about the community aspect of it … And, a lot of people do this, let’s face it, adding the do-good element to your company has kind of become a buzzword, trendy, and a lot of times you’re wondering, does this really even have an effect, right? Whether it’s giving the one for one kind of situation like, or a portion of it.

And, when I started to look into your situation and think about it, it’s like, “Okay, it’s free education, it’s training.”, but then I started to think about the idea of, “If these people get hired then to work at the restaurant, and then they’re background, their culture, the things they’ve learned, they start to infuse that into the process, it literally could change the trajectory of where  the brand, the business, goes.”.

Kevin Sousa: Absolutely.

Nick Comanici: And so that’s, to me, where the big change actually happens, as far as, “How are you leveraging the culture and things of Braddock?”. It’s not as upfront, but if you think of it from that standpoint, it’s getting infused into the entire process of what you’re doing.

Kevin Sousa: Absolutely. I mean, I felt like when we opened this place that it we would be disingenuous for me to try and do what [00:26:30] I thought, or what other people thought, the residents of Braddock wanted. I don’t know, I didn’t grow up in Braddock, I know what I’m really good at, and what I’m really good at is creative, fun, “American” food. Don’t take it too seriously, it might be modern, it might be rustic some days, it might … But, I’m not …
I really despise the word “Authentic”, when people talk about, “Authentic food.”. I can’t remember who it was, I just heard someone say it on NPR, some famous chef, it might have been, what’s his name, talking about authentic cuisine, and there is no such thing in the United States. You’d see people brand themselves as “Authentic Italian”, or, “Authentic Sicilian”, well unless you  got those tomatoes in Sicily you’re not doing authentic, it can only be done there. So, I’ve always been kind  of lambasted about people saying that my food is too global or too much of an amalgamation of different things, but I’m interested in everything.
And so, to get back to where I started, I felt like it would be disingenuous for me to try and preach to what I thought people wanted. And so, instead, how we thought about engaging in the community was, well, let’s hire  every single person who applies from Braddock, and we’ve pretty much done that, aside from people who didn’t show up for second interviews or just stopped showing up completely. I mean, we have, during school season it’s a little lighter, because a lot of our staff goes back to school, whether it’s college or high school, but overall, I mean, we toggle between 50 and 65% of our staff are Braddock residents or one time Braddock residents, or have a very strong connection to Braddock.  And then, we also provide a 50% discount for anyone in Braddock who wants to eat our food.

Nick Comanici: I thought that was pretty awesome.

Kevin Sousa: So, I mean, it takes a cuisine that is inherently a little more pricey to produce, because the level of product that we’re using is higher end, we try to embrace and support local farms as much as we can so we pay a premium for things coming from these local farms so we can support them  So, we have to charge a certain amount of money, but how we offset is that we basically, if you come in and you’re a Braddock resident, you just fill out a piece of paper like you were getting a Giant Eagle card and you get a steel, a black steel, Superior Motors card, numbered, in the mail, you bring it in and when you’re presented with your check, you just put it on the check presenter and you get 50% off your food.

Nick Comanici: That’s pretty awesome.

Kevin Sousa: So, I mean, that’s what we’re … And, we’re trying other things, it’s not an end game, we’re experimenting with different ways to engage and mentor, and be a part of the community. And I feel like we’ve really been embraced over this last year. We’ve just celebrated our one year anniversary and we had this killer party, and the Braddock Civic Center just opened, the town center just opened, and we had an after-party at the restaurant. And, it’s just gone very well and it feels good. It’s just interesting that a lot of the voices that were so vocal about wanting to string me up.

Nick Comanici: They get quiet.

Kevin Sousa: There’s silence and crickets. And, I have never said that, but sometimes I feel it and I’m just like, “I’m gonna just not bring that up, because … “.

Nick Comanici: No, I think it’s an awesome … I mean, when it comes down to it, I mean, anytime we face that kind of opposition, one of my favorite books, it’s actually over there, is from Ryan Holiday, Obstacle Is The Way, and just pushing through it, just plowing through it and seeing what happens in that process. And, I think it’s good for people to hear your story and those things, ’cause they could get to a similar space and assume that it’s over, but I think hearing someone else-

Kevin Sousa: I have one story I just have to tell.

Nick Comanici: For sure.

Kevin Sousa: And it’s recent. So, a couple years ago, three or four years ago, whenever all this shit went down with the negative press, I was asked to do the Failure Lab [00:31:00] thing. And I did it, and I probably spoke in front of a few hundred people at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, told my whole story, soup to nuts, about addiction, about sobriety, about failure, about debt. And, I ended with the negative article, I didn’t begin with that, that was the end of my story.
I was at the bodega the other day, in Braddock, grabbing a Diet Coke and this guys looking at me, and he’s like, “Did you do a thing couple years ago  about failure?”, and I was like, “Yeah.”, he was like, “Oh, I’m a Braddock resident, I just want to see how that worked out.”, I was like, “Huh.”. I was like, “You know the restaurant down the street?”, he was like, “Yeah! My cousin works there.”, I was like, “Yeah, that’s it …”., he was like, “Are you kidding me? You made it through all of that?”.
And I get chills when I talk about it, because it’s one of the first interactions like that that I’ve had, and he gave me a big hug and he was like, “I’m proud of you, I don’t even know you.”, he was like, “But I sat there and listened to you talk about all the shit that you went through and how emotional it was.”, he was like, “I’m really happy for you.”. So, that meant a lot. It was huge.

Nick Comanici: You wanna hear it from that person and not someone who was a hater, coming back and saying, “Hey, we’ll write the article now, we’ll write the good one now.”.

Kevin Sousa: Yeah. And I mean, I’ve always tried to just … It’s none of my business what other people think about me, and I live by that, because it’s not worth it. The fact that my … Whatever we’re doing in Braddock takes up space in peoples brain, whether it’s good or bad. It is what it is.

Nick Comanici: You can’t control it, for sure.

Kevin Sousa: I can’t control it.

Nick Comanici: I mean, that’s why the line for this, “Do the hard thing.”, and I see that … How long have you had that on your knuckles? “Hard work”.

Kevin Sousa: Almost 10 years now.  I think I got it right after I got sober. Being a chef is hard work, getting sober is hard work, being a father is hard work, being a husband is hard work, developing some sort of meditation practice is … It’s not just about being a blue-collar, Pittsburgh Kid, it has a lot of meanings for me.

Nick Comanici: Oh, absolutely. I mean, it’s interesting, ’cause I grew up in a blue-collar household, my dad was a mechanic and I even went down that path  for a moment. But, the lessons that it teaches you, it’s a mentality, is what it is, it doesn’t mean that you have to be in the carpenters union, but that mentality just sticks with you. And even when you’re sitting … I’m sitting at a desk, staring at a computer, I still feel like I have the same kind of work ethic that my father had when he was laying underneath a car.

Kevin Sousa: Absolutely. And I used to have a chip on my shoulder about different kinds of people, I used to think that if you were a lawyer, a doctor, or if you were wealthy or … I just had this chip on my shoulder, ’cause I grew up without a lot of stuff, and just struggled. But through this journey, I’ve met amazing people that were some of the hardest working I’ve ever met, people like John Fetterman, people like Gregg Kander, people like Chris Clark, people from just a myriad of backgrounds who just have surprised me. On all ends of the spectrum, people who’ve [00:34:30] come to the restaurant with zero experience, with an ankle bracelet on, they’d gotten themselves into some trouble, and ended up being incredible staff and they’re the biggest pieces of our establishment, we would really suffer without them.
And so, it’s just been really refreshing to kind of have a newfound faith in humanity.

Nick Comanici: Judging [00:35:00] can go both ways, for sure. Growing up, it’s like, listen to punk rock and Minor Threat, and you start looking at authority figures in a certain way, and leadership has a negative connotation in your mind. But, you can be wrong in that side of things too. We think of people judging people in the typical way that is negative, but it can go the other way, and I’ve definitely been a proponent of that in certain cases.

Kevin Sousa: I mean, one of the things that makes me happiest is when a guest will mistake me for the dishwasher or they’ll see me taking out a bag of trash, I like that people aren’t sure who’s who and because, in the restaurant, we’re all the same. We all look the same, the front of the house, the back of the house, we all dress the same, we all have the same ethic of, “This is a family, and whatever we have to do to get through tonight is what we have to get … And then, if there’s a problem, we’ll talk about it tomorrow.”. And, it’s just this very, this kind of, I don’t wanna call it a hive mentality, but it’s something that has been created unintentionally, it’s this organic thing, and-

Nick Comanici: I have to be honest, thinking about this podcast, seeking out someone local that had made a name for themselves, and I’d reached out to some others in the culinary world [00:36:30] and didn’t get a great response back. One of the things that 100% sold me on you is, my wife and I went to PickleFest, and you guys, you had a booth set up there and at first I didn’t realize you were right there, you were the one making the food, and there was another booth, the chef wasn’t making the food, it was obviously someone else, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but that was the moment I was like, “This is legit, because this is your passion and you would rather be there making the food, than just sending someone off and kind of phoning it in.”.

Kevin Sousa: Yeah. I mean, and it goes both ways, I couldn’t have been there had I not had a really strong team. I speak very highly of Jack Martin, my other sous chef Brian Little, they ran the show in the restaurant, but we had created this thing together where I felt very comfortable that they could … It never even crossed my mind that they couldn’t do it, it wasn’t ever a question, it was just like, “Okay, you guys got Saturday night, you’re all lined up, I’m gonna do Picklesburgh, and then the next day, if you wanna do Picklesburgh on Sunday, you’re welcome to do it and then I’ll run the show on Sunday.”. It’s very much joint responsibilities, all around.

Nick Comanici: Everyone.

Kevin Sousa: At the end of the day, I mean, I’m held accountable if shit really goes South, but for the most part we share the workload, so.

Nick Comanici: So, for the subscribers, the listeners, where’s the best place for them to tune in to see what you’re doing? What are you most proud of right now? If someone could go to one place, there’s so many different outlets and channels, one place.

Kevin Sousa: Yeah. I mean, probably the easiest window to peek into … I mean, it’s personal, but it’s also professional, is just my Instagram, is both of those things, very much so, you’ll see family stuff, you’ll see dogs, you’ll see food, you’ll see job training. And that’s just sousapgh.

Nick Comanici: Awesome.

Kevin Sousa: That gives you a real kind of glimpse into what it is. And, you’ll see, if you scroll down far enough, you’ll see pictures of the building when it was just a bombed out nothing, and the progress of where we are now.

Nick Comanici: The website is Superior Motors, what’s the web address?

Kevin Sousa: It’s 15104. So we had to add the zip, because there are probably 20 or 30 Superior Motors actual car dealerships around the country. So, the building was … the name came from the original use of the building, which we thought was a nice abstraction for-

Nick Comanici: Wasn’t that one of the first Chevy dealerships or something?

Kevin Sousa: It was one of the first indoor Chevy dealerships in the country, yeah. So, it had a pretty dope showroom at one point.

Nick Comanici: I thought that was really cool.

Kevin Sousa: It was like a three-story space, so it’s built like a brick shithouse, I mean there’s 18 inch slabbing between the floors, we have a rooftop greenhouse, and the Fetterman’s live on the middle floor, they don’t hear a thing, we have a restaurant, loud music, tons of people, and they’re like, “It’s quite as all can be.”.

Nick Comanici: That’s really cool. And then, I would recommend, you can do a virtual tour on there, which is so cool, ’cause you can go in the kitchen.

Kevin Sousa: Yeah, a local guy … The name of the company is escaping me, but they did this really cool virtual tour and you can go in and see, whatever day, it’s much like Google Maps but in a restaurant, it’s a little more detailed too.

Nick Comanici: Absolutely, I mean you can get pretty deep in there.
Cool. Well, man, thanks for coming on, I really appreciate you taking the time out.

Kevin Sousa: My pleasure, thanks for having me.

Nick Comanici: Alright, take care man.

Kevin Sousa: You too.

Carnage

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