Dorothy Guy remembers when Braddock, Pennsylvania, was a thriving steel town humming with streetcars and commerce where her father, a foundry worker, and mother raised a happy family.
Every other Thursday - “steel mill payday” - her family went grocery shopping at the A&P or Kroger. For the occasional post-church treat, she recalls trips to Isaly’s for a skyscraper cone or a chipped ham BBQ sandwich.
“Braddock was really alive back then,” said Guy, 63, a lifelong resident who’s raising seven grandchildren there.
That was before the steel industry’s decline in the 1970s. Since then, the 20,000-person population of Braddock’s heyday has dried up to around 2,300, and this former metropolis on the Monongahela River east of Pittsburgh has fallen into urban decay. Save for a handful of markets, convenience stores and a cafe, there are no grocery stores or restaurants within the city limits of Braddock, Guy says.
But Braddock Mayor John Fetterman is hoping to change that with the help of Kevin Sousa, a Pittsburgh-area chef known for starting businesses in neighborhoods that have seen better days. And, they’re looking to Kickstarter to fund their big idea.
Superior Motors, named for the car dealership that once occupied the space, will be more than a chef-driven restaurant serving up food framed in buzzwords such as “organic” and “farm-to-table,” say Fetterman and Sousa. They envision a “restaurant ecosystem” that draws upon Braddock for food and labor in return for a job-training program and an establishment serving fresh, seasonal dishes.
“Good, expertly prepared food shouldn’t be exclusionary,” said Fetterman, a tall, bald, tattooed man whose efforts to revive Braddock as a modern-day urban homestead have made him the face of “Rust Belt renewal” in the national press.
“Everyone is competing for the affluent, prestigious locations and clientele, but here’s a chef who can cook with best of them wanting to go into the most impoverished towns,” Fetterman said in a phone interview.
But can a restaurant help fuel a town’s revival?
The plan is still in its infancy, which is why Sousa turned to Kickstarter when bank loans and private investors failed to materialize. But, it’s very much a project unique to Braddock, and it bears the imprint of its current mayor, who is known for pursuing ambitious projects through unconventional means.
Fetterman owns and lives in the Superior Motors building with his wife and two children. He is leasing the bottom floor free of charge to Sousa, whom Fetterman persuaded to relocate his family to Braddock to launch the project.
Sousa plans to lead a job-training program out of the restaurant for Braddock residents, who also will receive resident discounts at the restaurant. He hopes to source most of the food from Braddock Farms, the community garden launched in partnership with Grow Pittsburgh, and an existing greenhouse on top of Superior Motors.
“It is a really one-of-a-kind project, but it could be a model for other Rust Belt areas,” Sousa said in a phone interview. “All across the Rust Belt, there are post-industrial towns that are not really sure where they’re going. I’m not saying one restaurant is going to save the town, but it can be an incubator for others who have ideas about how to start businesses.”
Many in Braddock hope to see it succeed, especially if it means creating more job-training programs and employment opportunities, said Braddock Farms manager Marshall Hart. As a nonprofit dedicated to food access, Braddock Farm’s involvement will be tied largely to the food education and training component of Superior Motors.
“Getting training programs together and figuring out how to make this serve Braddock residents is our priority, because that’s what needs to be done to really help Braddock; the main issue here is jobs,” Hart said.
Dorothy Guy’s grandson Jon White is also excited by the prospect of being able to train under Sousa. The 15-year-old worked at Braddock Farms over the summer thanks to a partnership between Grow Pittsburgh and the Braddock Youth Group. He was turned off by the smell at first, but applied anyway, encouraged by Giselle Fetterman, Braddock’s first lady.
Through the six-week program, he learned to appreciate compost and to identify kale, swiss chard and cucumbers, earning a $800 stipend in the process. He also learned how to make pizza, thanks to a visit from Sousa, and hopes to work with him so he can earn money for college.
“Him being here is just another sign of how Braddock is getting better,” said White, who lives with his grandmother while he pursues his high school diploma through an online program
“Braddock used to be a bad area. It used to have a lot of violence,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s getting better and better, the streets are getting better. We don’t have a lot of loitering, and people care about the community. At the pace we’re going, it’s getting better all the time.”
So, why does a community lacking many basic amenities need a restaurant? Why not, asks Fetterman, who arrived in town in 2001 as an AmeriCorps volunteer.
Since taking office in 2005, the mayor has spearheaded a number of urban renewal initiatives, from converting abandoned buildings into community centers and artistic incubators, to the creation of green spaces and an urban garden. Through the Free Store managed by Giselle Fetterman, members of the community can get clothes and food donations from Costco, helping to alleviate food insecurity, Fetterman said.
With plans underway for an urgent care facility and affordable housing development, a restaurant seemed like a good way to continue serving Braddock while making it a destination for outsiders.
“This is not a gentrifying effort, nor is it a panacea to all our problems,” Fetterman said. “All these things are here already - the chef, the garden, the building, the pizza oven - the one thing’s that missing is a restaurant to plug them all into.”
The mayor approached Sousa about two years ago with the idea. The chef has a proven history in pioneering restaurants in neighborhoods that had fallen on hard times. His first fine-dining restaurant, Salt of the Earth, opened in 2010 in Pittsburgh’s Garfield neighborhood to great acclaim, followed by Union Pig & Chicken and Station Street Food in 2012.
“Kevin gets it. He’s from a place not unlike Braddock, and he’s not interested in distancing himself from that,” Fetterman said. "He’s running into it and embracing it.”
The chef hails from McKees Rocks, a transportation hub through which much of the steel produced in Pittsburgh traveled. His grandfather worked in the steel industry and opened an Italian restaurant with Sousa’s father in the 1960s, catering to steel workers. He was raised against the post-industrial backdrop of the 1970s and 1980s amid the mass exodus.
“I feel comfortable in less affluent neighborhoods because that’s where I’m from,” he said. “There are a lot of cool and eclectic neighborhoods in Pittsburgh that had their heyday at one point and for whatever reason they haven’t come back. But they are near and dear to my heart.”
“And, from a business standpoint, the rents are cheap, and I’m open-minded to taking on challenges,” he continued. “It seems to have worked out. People come to our restaurants and support us.”
Dorothy Guy and other residents of Braddock are looking forward to its arrival. She is happy with how the mayor has turned around Braddock so far and supports his initiatives. Plus, it’ll be nice to have another gathering place in town.
“There were lot of good things back then, but now it’s a new day,” she said. “It will never be the same as before, but it’s going to be good.”
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I'm from Niles,OH, originally, part of the rust belt (outside of Youngstown, OH). I wish him luck, but don't hold out for much. The Akron, Youngstown, Pittsburgh triangle is rife with organized crime, and new businesses rarely have a chance. Growing up, restaurants burned down regularly due to the owners not paying the mob 'fees'. It was accepted as part of the norm. I don't believe there is any real hope for the rust belt, other than Pittsburgh. Sorry.
A restaurant as well intentioned as it may be is not a steel mill. The only thing that will end the de-industrialization of America and thus the continued loss of American manufacturing jobs to Asia and elsewhere is the re-industrialization of America. That takes tariffs, or a VAT (value added tax) on foreign manufactured goods and tax breaks and or government subsidies for manufacturers to reopen and build new factories.
Flint Michigan as the factories closed and the #1 Fischer plant was demolished, they did a lot of that re-educating and it pretty much just spent federal funds for the sake of spending it. The problem with Pennsylvania rust belt towns is that industry cannot start up because it left for low wages outside the USA like in Mexico, Africa, or Asia. When someone proposes bringing back some kind of industry to these towns, the union gets in first and says, "Well, I guarantee you that we will have a say about pay and benefits and it aint coming cheap." That causes any plans to fail and the investors to run away like Pennsylvania has a case of the Black Death. So the answer may be for unions to fold up and allow market to determine wages and at least get people back to working again. It sure ain't gonna happen any other way. The last thing a big investor wants to do right now is to tussle with the unions with the btty attitudes they currently have.
Nonsense! Look what unions did for Hostess!
Err, never mind...
Look what unions did for Detroit!
Err, never mind...
Well we're waiting here in Allentown
For the Pennsylvania we never found
For the promises our teachers gave
If we worked hard
If we behaved.
So the graduations hang on the wall
But they never really helped us at all
No they never taught us what was real
Iron and coke,
And we're waiting here in Allentown.
But they've taken all the coal from the ground
And the union people crawled awaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay
I think you mean Billy Joel there genius...
Lotsa talk about job training going on all over the place, but where are the jobs?
Amazing how this restaurant is going to be free! Free rent! Free intern labor! Free produce! Yay! Such a valuable model for everywhere else...
I watched a video on this enterprise. The whole story screams, "SCAM!!" People don't work for free. The government won't let it stay tax free for very long. Kids won't play farmer for free. The 'Name' attached to the place will leave when it collapses. Expect the corporation to demand big cash assistance when it can't turn a profit.
Although this story sounds warm and fuzzy the fact of the mater is this story or “media advertisement” only represents the ambitions of a select few who have been and continue to exploit the sever economic inequality and social injustice experiences of those who are truly suffering the most within the town. Just as the Levi’s “Go forth” campaign a few years back, it’s a misrepresentation of who and what’s actually happening to the authentic citizens, their contributions to this nation and their history. It’s glorifying a come back that doesn’t exist.
All the projects mentioned, the housing project, the farms and the urgent care facility are or will be funded by tax payer funds and has no true benefit for the citizens. The housing will raise the taxes on the little guy next door who’s already on a fixed income and will eventually force him to move or preferably sale, the urgent care isn’t the full fledged hospital that was removed from the town a few years back with the Mayors blessings and the farms produce is grown in soil that is toxic and catches the debris and pollutants that fall from the sky 24 hours a day from Andrew Carnegies first steel mill. Fetterman himself lives off grants, donations and tax payer funds. None of this, except maybe the urgent care center, will actually benefit those who are suffering and seeking true, self sustaining economic solutions. It’s worth noting that not one single job has been created since Fetterman took office except maybe a few that directly benefit him or his non profit.
Unfortunately the only ones who continue to benefit from this continued exploitation are those who continue to victimize and exploit the dire situations of those who are downtrodden and actually suffering. Nothing against those who are fortunate enough to benefit from the false American dream but to continue seek media attention for a come back that only exists for a select few is just disgusting. For a more accurate account of what’s actually taking place in the town I would suggest researching the extraordinary work of Braddock, Pa Artist Latoya Ruby Frazier: http://www.latoyarubyfrazier.com
Thank you for the excellent post, Braddock. Only true socialism can help the people.
Well said. Grew up across the the Mon in West Mifflin w/ plenty of family that worked in the mills. What this story fails to express are the overall hardships experienced by the residents of the area. One needs to only go down the road a bit to see that the Waterfront development in Homestead has done very llittle or nothing to that area in the fifteen years since.
This is a great project; thanks to Chef Sousa for taking this risk and Mayor Fetterman for his support. I heard about it via a friend in Pittsburgh and look forward to visiting the restaurant when it opens! Just as Braddock needs jobs, it needs reasons for people to visit, and this will be a good one.
Personally I'd like to see a Chick-fil-A on every corner.
That sounds ♫ FAAAAAABUUUULOOOUUUSS! ♫
why all the negative comments, someone is trying! Isnt that what Americans do. Instead of being a butt and slamming the folks involved, get involved and try to help! gezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
What unicorn did you ride in on. If you want a job, move to where the jobs are. Don't whine. We don't want to hear you. Many ideas look good on paper but crash when they come up against reality.
"John" and "John Hillman"s responses are spot-on. What was that restaurant on Braddock Ave. near the RR tracks opened and closed a few years ago? Lots of fanfare; famous chef ... a woman I think. Never stood a chance. OK, maybe that's Swissvale, but same thing. I'm a native, but left in the 70's and never regretted it. Every hundred yards is another local govt. entity; mayor, police chief, etc. sucking the dollars and vision out of Pittsburgh. Forget about WIC and SNAP misuse Mr. Rosen; the dollars going to your local corrupt politicians is the real fraud ... and the reason Pittsburgh will never be more than a collection of tiny fiefdoms.
No offense, But I bit the crops from that garden taste like sh!t.
Mapper, the crops don't taste like shit, they are really quite good. If your local I'd like to invite you to come down to our market, every Saturday starting in June, we are at the intersection of Braddock Ave and 6th St. Myself and the farm crew put a great deal of thought, love, and labor into the work that we do on the farm, so please give us the benefit of not judging the flavor of food you have not yet eaten. Marshall Hart, Braddock Farms Manager
Oh, I believe you.
Has there ever been any studies to test or findings on pcbs, other toxins in soil, that affect crops?
I mean, I would think if you were planting in a highly polluted area crops just wouldn't grow? However, weeds and other plants are known to recolonize brownfields.
So, I guess what I am saying is that when you put plants into the ground they are taking in whats in the soil. So, do you know whats in your soil? has it been tested?
But, I mean I think it is a great idea. And more power to you. Don't get me wrong I just think it's very humorous is all.
I mean I am more curious about the prep of the site, what the plan was, what was tested and what was found, mitigation strategies, etc. Environmental site assessments, etc.
OR- was it some person who said "ah ha! this is the most polluted piece of earth I have ever seen.....lets grow a garden!"
sorry but if you can't laugh at the world what do you have?
"But can a restaurant help fuel a town’s revival?"
Nope. Next question.
Why do you say that? New restaurants and ancillary businesses have certainly helped fuel the revival of urban neighborhoods in big cities. Why not Braddock?
When I first moved across the river to Munhall, Rankin all the way to Hazelwood was just one giant brownfield. It's nice to see all the changes over the past 20 years along that stretch, and the changes to Pittsburgh in general since the steel industry went bust. And it's only through the efforts of guys like Fetterman and Sousa that these changes are possible. Thank God for people like them; otherwise, we would just be another Detroit.
Im a mechanic, machinest, process improvement and repair. Cant find work. Have all my own tools and machinery. I live in a small town in NH. Sucks, I would be an asset to any company, they wont give a chance. Good Luck to them.
Restaurants are a LUXURY. Red Lobster is about to go out of business. There is a good reason no bank will invest in this. The Business Plan has no legs. The greenhouse 'exists' nothing said about how much or what is grown. Sounds like EVERYONE will qualify for a discount. Food costs should be 30 percent (or less) when the restaurant is charging EVERYONE full price. This is because labor and other overhead runs another 30 to 35 percent. The remaining 30-35% is for "profit". Out of that profit comes repaying the investors THEN the owners. The "discount" has to come out of THIS portion. The food sellers will not discount. The utilities will not discount. The cooks and wait staff want their FULL pay check (and deserve that).
Red Lobster is going out of business because of terrible, over-reactionary management – not because the customer base isn't there. Lots of other chain restaurants are doing fine. The problem with the company that runs Red Lobster is that as soon as they perceived a tiny dip in their business due to the economy, they panicked and ran like a chicken with their head-cut-off to cut costs and abandon what they do best. They suffer from the notion that they have to attract more "young people" by serving mediocre food in big hurry – which is idiotic. We used to eat there a lot for many years, but when they decided to change their menu, they went from good, fresh food to reheated frozen garbage with no flavor literally overnight. That is what will kill a restaurant. They are scared to death to raise prices a little to preserve quality, but you have to. Most people are willing to pay a little more to get a good fresh meal, but they won't tolerate paying the same amount and getting something substandard. Red Lobster killed itself by listening to moronic marketing advisors and focus groups instead of to their own customers.
Uh...there's a huge difference between a destination restaurant with a well known chef, a seasonal menu, and local supply chain, and a corporate line like Red Lobster. That you are unable to see this speaks volumes.
It's McKees Rocks, not "McKees Rock," but otherwise a very interesting article. Best of luck to the Braddock cooks!
This is fantastic news. I am glad to hear Braddock hasn't given up. Initiative, resilience, and big hearts make the residents of Braddock an example we should all follow.
This is a 'report' intended to get people to "donate" through kickstarter. It is failed business plan making a LAST DESPERATE attempt. It is not "news" of a successful venture. It is a report of a bad idea slowly sinking into the quicksand.
In contrast,my guess is that you prefer the Romney style plan of company buyouts,outsourcing.and overseas bank accounts.We see how that doesn't help Americans return to work.That style of business is also a big failure that is destroying American and it's economy from within.
They met and exceeded their goal.
Way to be a positive thinker there. Does being a negative person make you feel superior?
And you know this how? I've seen other news reports about Mayor Fetterman's attempts to revive Braddock. Just because Kickstarter is mentioned in this article does not mean it's an attempt to get people to invest.
It's as if you want Braddock to fail. Shame on you.
You sound like a capitalist 'bagger rush limbaugh listener.
"metropolis on the Monongahela River" with 20,000 people?
Wow ... talk about the outbacks. We have almost that many kids in little league in my small town ...
I suggest they evolve – at least move into the 1980's ... perhaps some folks there should purchase their first computer or something.
While 'metropolis' is not the proper way to reference this town, a rural upbringing doesn't mean these people are uneducated, unable to take care of themselves, or are subhuman as you seem to be saying (by saying they need to 'evolve'). I grew up in a rural, sparsely populated region of Pennsylvania (Bradford County having a population density of ~50 people per square mile verse Allegheny County having a population density of >1500 people per square mile due to Pittsburgh). I am no less prepared and capable to work in professional environments and contribute to society than my coworkers who grew up true cities and developed suburbs.
SLY.... OPEN YOUR EYES THIS IS REAL AMERICA TRYING TO REBOUND FROM ITS HAY DAY !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
hey ... I'm all for the former steel (and coal) towns trying to morph into the 21st century.
Just thought the idea of a '20,000 person metropolis' was a bit amusing.
Pittsburgh and the coal towns show how important it is to plan ahead – to not put all your eggs in a single basket. Be ready to change, or change will run you over. That's what happened, and I am glad for efforts to help these folks.
Perhaps, while the article may have grammatically attributed 'metropolis' to Braddock itself, the authors may have been referring to the entire developed region in the Mon Valley including Duquesne, McKeesport, Braddock, and the like. This collective community developed around the steel industry, and during that era may have been robust enough in population and structure to be deemed a metropolis of that time period.
Its great that judgmentalism is alive and well in America
Uh – the Edgar Thompson Works not only provided jobs in Braddock, but in literally dozens of other communities throughout the Mon Valley. Taken together, those towns had a lot more than 20,000 residents.
More power to them. Sousa's got three successful ventures going in similar areas so this isn't his first rodeo. Best of luck!!!
This is exactly the spirit that we need in this country to bring it back to prosperity. Instead of all these people sitting on their butts crying the blues collecting WIC, SNAP, cell phone, section 7 and unemployment checks they should be out in the market place doing something constructive. It doesn't much matter what they do but it beats ripping off the taxpayers.
How about the ripping off of the taxpayers from the top with tiny tax bases for the wealthy and corporate subsidies paid to large companies by the taxpayers.Plenty of waste there also that you have noted in your post.
Braddock, Homestead, McKeesport and other areas along the Mon Valley will never be what they were when that area was making the steel on which the USA was built. Those days are gone. The old Pittsburgh is dead, long live the new 'Burgh.
Luckily, Sousa, Fetterman, et. al., do not have the same attitude as you.
Alaneddie has it right, The old Pittsburgh is dead. The new Pittsburgh will be that much better, why? because of the people. Best People in the world. I used to live in Braddock in the 70's. It is tough to go back now.
I have to admit, my visit to Pittsburgh and the surrounding area was amazingly refreshing. Nice people, populous but not overcrowded, big diversity in things to do and places to see.
I'd like to recommend to Kevin Sousa and John Fetterman that the restaurant not be high-end with a price cut for Braddock residents. Rather the price line for the food should be closer to what people in the area will be able to afford already, if it's really about the community, then really make it about the community. I think the Braddock Community Cafe deserves Fetterman's focus more than this project, it's a project that was started by the Braddock Youth Project, there was initial energy and support but only for a very limited time, now nothing. Something shinier caught Fetterman's eye.
I don't see how MORE food for our obsese society can be bad...
People can't exactly stop eating entirely until they've slimmed down. Better to balance the bad food options (which are often what's available in challenged areas) with healthy food options.
Mrs. Guy was quoted as saying: "Save for a handful of markets, convenience stores and a cafe, the nearest grocery store or restaurant is at least five miles away in Monroeville, which Guy says is an unfeasible trip for many Braddock residents who live in poverty." However, there is the Braddock Hills Giant Eagle; Braddock Hills KFC; and North Braddock's The Restaurant at Grand View all less than 2 miles away from the Superior Motors Building. Keeping in mind Braddock's Population is slightly over 2,000. It would be unfeasible to cater to such a small group.
Hey there! The people we spoke to said there were no supermarkets or restaurants within Braddock proper. We just fixed to clarify the geographic parameters of that statement. Thanks for reading!
And those places aren't in Braddock proper. They are close, but Braddock doesn't receive any tax benefits from them. Braddock Hills and North Braddock are separate towns.
The Kickstarter campaign concludes in less than 24 hours at 11:59 on Monday, January 6th. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/379429428/superior-motors-community-restaurant-and-farm-ecos
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