In the wee hours of the morning, Kevin Sousa sat in Braddock Mayor John Fetterman's living room, anticipating the success of their crowd-funded restaurant venture.
Sousa's phone had finally stopped blowing up with Twitter updates or alerts he gets every time someone donates to his Kickstarter campaign, an effort to raise money for a restaurant in a small, used-up steel town.
“I was in and out of consciousness,” says Sousa, owner of Salt of the Earth.
But by 6 a.m. today, the campaign to fund "Superior Motors" had reached its $250,000 goal, fueled by local and national media attention mixed with a frenzy of support on Twitter. It is Kickstarter's best-funded restaurant project ever.
"It took on a complete life of its own,” Sousa says, and earlier noted the project was only half-funded on Dec. 9. "It was seriously a critical mass ... I’m not that popular on Twitter — we picked up hundreds of followers last night."
"Superior Motors" — named after the long-vacant Chevy dealership whose space it will occupy — is Sousa and Fetterman's brain-child. It's billed as a "community restaurant and farm ecosystem" that will take full advantage of a nearby apiary, 4,000 square feet of farming space (including a rooftop greenhouse) and a convent, which will house the restaurant's culinary students.
Sousa says he turned to Kickstarter because "it was really our only option to build capital. Braddock is not a thriving business district; it’s not a business district at all.”
This afternoon, the campaign had raised just over $270,000, with 11 hours to spare.
Over 1,700 people donated — and the majority donated less than $100. There were four donations of "$10,000 of more," according to its Kickstarter page — though Sousa says he only knows one of those donors personally.
And because they reached their fundraising goal, the Heinz Endowments has agreed to supply $40,000 in grant support for the training dimension of the restaurant. That should help fund training for about 40 kids says Rob Stephany, director of community and economic development at the Heinz Endowments.
“If they could reach their audacious goals, we got excited at the notion that there might be the right ingredients in place for kids to learn about culinary arts” especially for low-income kids, Stephany says.
Their support isn't included in the Kickstarter tally, which means the project has secured around $300,000 in funding so far (Kickstarter will take five percent, and Amazon will collect three percent in processing fees).
The restaurant is slated to open in January 2015, Sousa says, though construction won't begin until the design is perfected and the winter weather moves off.
And unless another eatery opens first, it will be the only restaurant in Braddock.
"The last place a person could go and get a prepared meal was the UPMC Braddock cafeteria,” Fetterman says. “It demonstrates to a wider audience there are [people] who are willing to part with their heard-earned money to support people here in Braddock. That's very positive and affirming."