The first rule of Pittsburgh is you don't talk shit about Pittsburgh.
March 1, 2015 9:48 AM   Subscribe

On January 6, 2014, Pittsburgh was in the middle of an especially harsh cold snap. The temperature had hit seven below zero, and the wind chill made going outside almost unbearable. But Kevin Sousa was elated. His Kickstarter campaign for Superior Motors had finally reached its goal of $250,000, and the contributions were still pouring in with nineteen hours left to go. Every time Sousa checked his phone, he saw dozens of new Twitter notifications letting him know that the campaign was doing better and better. He was pulling in an amount of restaurant seed money unprecedented in the history of Kickstarter, all to open a high-concept, multi-component restaurant in a seemingly hopeless place.
On Pittsburgh chef Kevin Sousa's attempt to revitalize a failing steel town through food, his previous restaurants' allegedly troubled financial history, and what information is owed to Kickstarter backers about their investment.

In January, eater.com profiled Kevin Sousa's and Braddock mayor John Fetterman's attempt to revitalize Braddock with a partly-Kickstarter-backed restaurant.

Today, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published an article detailing Kevin's financial struggles as he has blazed through opening, closing, and selling several Pittsburgh restaurants in transitioning neighborhoods in recent years, touching on whether his troubled financial history with his restaurants should have been disclosed to Kickstarter backers as well as some questions about the restaurant's other funding sources. Kevin has responded, offering his Kickstarter backers a tour of the restaurant site if they are concerned about how their backer money is being spent.
posted by Stacey (30 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
Pittsburgh is a failing steel town? Didn't look like it the last time I visited.
posted by PugAchev at 9:54 AM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Pittsburgh is a failing steel town?

The article makes it clear from the very first sentence that the town referred to is Braddock, 20 minutes from Pittsburgh.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:06 AM on March 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


Pittsburgh is a failing steel town? Didn't look like it the last time I visited.

Superior Motors is in Braddock ("Reinvention is the only option"), about ten miles out of PGH, and it is in a very different state than its neighbor.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:08 AM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Additional reading from a University of Pittsburgh law professor and blogger, published several weeks back, before this Post-Gazette piece:

In Pittsburgh: Kevin Sousa is Right!
There is a long-running debate in social theory (sociology, parts of economics, and so on) between the roles of social structure and organization, on the one hand, and individual agency, on the other hand, in understanding the character of society and how it changes. The truth is usually “some of both,” but emphasis matters at the margins (structure or agency?), and that emphasis can be translated into advice and forecasts. If society is suffering in some respect and improvement is warranted, do we put resources into new or different structures, or do we put resources into opportunities and capabilities for individual actors?

[...]

Kevin Sousa, native of McKees Rocks, is one of those people. I have never met Kevin Sousa, and it’s possible that he’s alienated as many people as he’s inspired. Innovators and entrepreneurs are often like that; they aim to succeed as much as they aim to be liked. That’s exactly why places like Pittsburgh need people like Kevin Sousa, even if people like Kevin Sousa fail as often as they succeed. Precisely because they try things, and because if people aren’t permitted to try things (if people aren’t encouraged, even), then good things may not happen. Bad things may not happen, either. But in advance, who knows which is which? Pittsburgh doesn’t need anyone to pick winners, and Pittsburgh isn’t where it is today because winners (people, or industries) were picked.

In short, I’m cheering for Kevin Sousa because Pittsburgh’s long history of the business and political elite telling the region what is good for it has come to an end — for better, rather than for worse. The storytellers at the Allegheny Conference won’t let their tale end without a fight, and that’s understandable. Celebrating the successes of that past is commendable, and sometimes it is even necessary. For much of the 20th century, Pittsburgh realized great things because of the ACCD’s leadership.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:25 AM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also, Braddock previously on MetaFilter.

(Tag is misspelled "braddoc" in this FPP, BTW.)
posted by tonycpsu at 10:28 AM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yes, but what does Rick Sebak think of all this?
posted by pxe2000 at 11:55 AM on March 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


Can someone please edit the post? This has nothing to do with Pittsburgh. Braddock is a whole other town, quite some distance away.
posted by trackofalljades at 12:23 PM on March 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


Quite some distance being, what, 1.5-2.0 miles as the crow flies, maybe? I'm bad with distance measurements, but it's just a borough or two East from the city boundary, not by any means some far-flung exurb.

And since Sousa has started (and sold) several other restaurants in the city, this is definitely a Pittsburgh story, even if he's now living in a nearby borough. I don't think the framing is bad at all, actually.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:39 PM on March 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


Can someone please edit the post? This has nothing to do with Pittsburgh. Braddock is a whole other town, quite some distance away.

It is indeed separate from da Burgh, but it's important to note that Braddock looks a lot like Pittsburgh very well could look like at the moment. But it doesnt - Pittsburgh's is a resounding success story that is an oft-too repeated tale of ingenuity and reinvention. Braddock is the all-too-common tale of poverty down the road and the failures of capitalism hiding close to our nation's corridors of power.

As for Braddock's reinvention being purely Braddock driven, many influential Pittsburghers have been working on the Braddock project because of Mayor Fetterman's leadership and people like Sousa - the cities are definitely connected, and while it's important to differentiate, they're a natural for compare/contrast.

I live in Pittsburgh. I understand some of the questions here, to me it seems to highlight some of the flaws of Kickstarter than anything else.
posted by glaucon at 12:43 PM on March 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's always nice to be able to fail as often as you succeed, especially is you are using other people's money to do so.

KS is so open for abuse...
posted by Windopaene at 1:10 PM on March 1, 2015


I can't escape this story. My twitter feed has been exploding with it all day and now it's the blue.

I guess that the PG piece is warranted in its focus on Sousa's financial situation but it comes across as mean spirited and a little self-satisfied that they've uncovered some big secret when it's not like it's some great revelation that it's hard to make money in the restaurant business. Sousa's probably been over hyped but Pittsburgh's restaurants were so dire for so long that chefs like him and Justin Severino and a few others deserve a lot of credit for livening the food scene up here. I've been to all three of Sousa's places multiple times and enjoyed every meal; I really miss Station Street Dogs as it was right around the corner from my office.

I have no idea if he can pull of this Braddock project or even if he does if it will do anything to help that sad little city but he seems sincere in his intentions and at least he's doing something.
posted by octothorpe at 1:21 PM on March 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


I grew up in Hammond, Indiana, and I sure as hell would not want a story about Three Floyds' Brewery (which is, I know, in Munster, but still) to talk about how it's a "Chicago" brewery even though Hammond and Chicago are literally next to one another.

This is a story about Braddock, not about Pittsburgh.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 1:30 PM on March 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also, "high concept" means pretty much exactly the opposite if what most people think it means and it's used exactly incorrectly in the quote in the main post.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 1:32 PM on March 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


ethnomethodologist: "This is a story about Braddock, not about Pittsburgh."

It seems it's a story about Kevin Sousa, primarily.
posted by Chrysostom at 4:57 PM on March 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


To be sure, 8.6 miles barely gets you to the Chicago Skyway from the Loop (it's maybe 7.5 and the Skyway itself is another 8), so that's not quite a fair comparison, state lines notwithstanding.

But the very presence of Sousa in Pittsburgh, and then later, in Braddock bespeaks a complex relationship between urban centers and their outer cogs. To act as if there is a bright line separating the two is particularly odd in this sort of case. Most economic analysis these days would be inclusive of an entire region rather than focusing on middling municipal borders. And really, to start to think that way is really likely to be part and parcel of a location's likely doom. A place like Braddock is no longer a fully self-sufficient urbanization, even if the industrial revolution afforded it a certain standalone quality for a while, and today it would be more effectively thought of as a residential or service center with at least a loose interdependence with the major hub (or hubs, there need not be just one). This local chauvinism gets us nowhere.

But then, it seems part of the problem is that Braddock isn't quite capable of thinking of itself as one cohesive place to begin with.
posted by dhartung at 5:33 PM on March 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Well I guess that the "is this a Pittsburgh story?" derail has totally taken over this thread so I'll weigh in. Pittsburgh is a tiny city that only holds 300K people in a metro area of 2.4 million and the vast majority of people who live in the suburbs and satellite towns think of themselves as Pittsburghers. If you ask anyone from anywhere in Allegheny County where they're from, they'll probably say "Pittsburgh" and not Ross Township or Plum or Turtle Creek or any of the other of the hundreds of municipalities that fill out the metro areas.

The fact that Braddock is not actually part of the city is just an artifact of the fact that municipal mergers are almost impossible to engineer in Pennsylvania and the city has not been allowed to expand in over a hundred years.
posted by octothorpe at 5:53 PM on March 1, 2015 [11 favorites]


Everything is (Not) Awesome or “Is This Good Enough For Pittsburgh?”

I don't agree with everything he says but I do agree that we need better critics here and we need to learn to deal with criticism better.
posted by octothorpe at 6:05 PM on March 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


Very little of "Pittsburgh" is actually Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh set its city limits once around 1900 and never changed them.
posted by the jam at 7:33 PM on March 1, 2015


My dad and his mom were from Sharpsburg, which isn't much closer in than Braddock, and I don't think you could get away with calling either of them not from Pittsburgh. Certainly if you did, I would then be forced to point out that Heinz started in Sharpsburg (my Nana remembered him selling door to door) and everyone in PGH takes credit for that.
posted by gingerest at 7:34 PM on March 1, 2015


ok folks it's time for the challenge round. I give you Mount Oliver, PA. It's surrounded by Pittsburgh and residents pay taxes to Pittsburgh, but officially it's not Pittsburgh. Can residents call themselves Pittsburghers? Is there even a mountain in Mount Oliver??
posted by tss at 7:47 PM on March 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Octothorpe, I was going to post that exact link, but you beat me to it. :)

I think ultimately this is a Pittsburgh story, because the newspaper in question is our local daily press. There's a super frustrated part of me that hates that this controversy is giving them EXACTLY the page clicks that they want, and they're being rewarded for this brand of journalism. It's no secret that the food critic in question has a lot of controversy in her past (her Conflict Kitchen fiasco for one, one of her first reviews was pretty freaking snotty & condescending about how quaint and blue collar we are as a city) and I feel like this is taking a paper I used to respect & read regularly, and turn it yellow.
posted by librarianamy at 5:27 AM on March 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


Mr. Sousa has responded to the article on his blog.
posted by chocolate_butch at 10:07 AM on March 2, 2015


George_Spiggott: Pittsburgh is a failing steel town?

The article makes it clear from the very first sentence that the town referred to is Braddock, 20 minutes from Pittsburgh.
The FPP made the opposite suggestion. Article clear; FPP muddy.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:47 PM on March 3, 2015


Windopaene: t's always nice to be able to fail as often as you succeed, especially is you are using other people's money to do so.

KS is so open for abuse...
In what sense is investors investing in a risky new business venture "abuse"? Seems to me that's pretty much what investors do. Kickstarter just allows non-gazillionaires to be investors, for a change.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:53 PM on March 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


George Spiggott: The article makes it clear from the very first sentence that the town referred to is Braddock, 20 minutes from Pittsburgh.
IAmBroom: The FPP made the opposite suggestion. Article clear; FPP muddy.

The first line of the FPP after the jump specifies Braddock. That people didn't read past the jump before commenting is not a problem with the post.
posted by gingerest at 4:07 PM on March 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


One of the local news stations did an hour-long show this week on the burgeoning Pittsburgh dining scene, and Sousa appears briefly in the first couple of segments talking pretty honestly about his successes and failures.

The fact that a Pittsburgh news channel can spend an hour talking about restaurants with mile-long bourbon lists, month-long waits to get a reservation, and brunch destinations with DJs spinning at them makes me think that there might be a bit of a hype-fueled bubble that's about to overinflate at some point soon. It's great that there's a lot of innovation and experimentation going on, and some of the places featured in the special really do serve great food, but I can't help but wonder wonder how many of them still be there in five years.

Also -- communal seating? No thanks.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:48 PM on March 3, 2015


Maybe it's a little bit of a bubble but people are still going to want somewhere to eat and it's not like Gulliftys or Minitellos are going to reopen. My wife and I have really enjoyed the culinary choices that have been available in the last five years or so. I remember when we first started dating in 2000 and there was just nothing to eat here, you'd end up at The Union Grill or The Elbow Room out of desperation.

I've never really had a problem with communal seating but YMMV.
posted by octothorpe at 4:42 AM on March 4, 2015


Oh, of course it's great to have options, and I do think there's been some growth lately in the middle ground between the haute cuisine restaurants with quasi-celebrity chefs and cheaper options like Lulu's that the special didn't really cover. But my wife and I couldn't stop laughing at how over-the-top trendy some of those places were, to the point where you wonder if it's really about the food instead of the "experience."

And yeah, communal seating is usually fine, but we've had a couple of bad experiences that have soured us on it. Maybe if there were a "no jagoffs" section we'd be more into it.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:18 AM on March 4, 2015


gingerest: The first line of the FPP after the jump specifies Braddock. That people didn't read past the jump before commenting is not a problem with the post.
The fact that the FPP is misleading is not a problem, because people shouldn't assume anything from it until the source articles are read? Ridiculous.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:16 AM on March 6, 2015


Not the article. The post itself. Read the whole post. Or at least the first line after the jump. It is not ridiculous to expect people to wait to comment until they finish reading an average-length post.
posted by gingerest at 3:18 PM on March 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


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