Superior Motors will bring the “farm” extremely close to the to “table” this spring when it begins growing some of its own produce on a half-acre plot in Braddock, right down the street from the restaurant. While other eateries — most notably, Dinette — have gardens that supply produce, this is the first restaurant in the Pittsburgh area to open its own urban farm.*
The farm, in addition to a 4,000-square-foot raised bed and greenhouse on the building’s roof, will provide “supplemental” produce to start, but owner and chef Kevin Sousa says he hopes to eventually acquire additional land in Braddock.
The restaurant made waves in 2014 when it held the most successful Kickstarter campaign for a restaurant, raising more than $350,000. Superior Motors opened in July after complications with the former car dealership building it now occupies.
Sousa hired Braddock resident Marshall Hart, who managed Grow Pittsburgh’s Braddock Farm for nine years, to run the farm project.
“Marshall’s the best,” Sousa says. “He turned landfill into beautiful farmland.”
Although Sousa and Hart haven’t decided exactly what they’ll grow, Sousa plans to grow “stuff on the more esoteric end,” like baby vegetables and unusual herbs and greens.
Currently, Sousa estimates he sources about 85 percent of his produce from local farms during the growing season, including Grow Pittsburgh’s Braddock operation. “We buy everything they can sell us,” he says, which is part of the reason he wanted to start his own farm, in addition to having more control over what is grown.
Most of Sousa’s dishes start with an ingredient and a memory. For example, if local farms provide a large quantity of beets, he’ll start thinking about the kinds of dishes his grandmother made with beets, and develop a new menu item from there. Equally important is that each dish is a collaboration with the kitchen staff.
“If you can collaborate on everything, it feels like a Superior Motors dish,” as opposed to a Kevin Sousa dish, he says.
Hart officially starts work on November 1, and over the winter he’ll focus on building infrastructure for the rooftop garden and farm plot, testing for contaminants like lead, and remediating the soil.
“Every empty plot around is really just a flat pile of rubble,” Hart says. Eleven years after Grow Pittsburgh began its Braddock farm, workers are still digging up bricks and pieces of concrete, Hart says. He expects a similar situation with the Superior Motors lot, which used to house a radio station.
Needed infrastructure includes heating and ventilation for the rooftop greenhouse, an irrigation system for the raised bed and possibly a deer fence for the farm plot. Hart also plans to add sand and compost to the plot’s thick clay soil to get it ready for its first growing season.
“It’s going to be really hard,” Hart says. “You have to figure things out on the fly constantly.”
Sousa will expect his restaurant staff to harvest produce from the farm and rooftop garden. They also plan to preserve anything they don’t use immediately. Already Sousa makes various pickles, jams and jellies with what he buys from local farms to use all year.
“I’m excited to be able to really focus in on growing again,” Hart said. “I like what my abilities produce.”
[*Editor’s note: While Superior Motors is distinguished as being the first area restaurant to start its own dedicated urban farm, we’ve updated this article to recognize that other restaurants have utilized gardens to source ingredients.]