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Six years ago, while doing consulting work for Yo Rita on the South Side and Downtown's Nine on Nine, Kevin Sousa grabbed a piece of paper towel and sketched out his future. It was a rudimentary floor plan for Salt of the Earth, the restaurant he hoped to one day open in Garfield.
At the time, the edgy cuisine he dreamed of cooking was as revolutionary as the rough location in which he planned on serving it.
"People actually laughed at the idea of a restaurant like Salt in Pittsburgh in 2008," recalls Mr. Sousa, who nevertheless kept the paper towel in his knife kit as motivation to one day "be an owner and not just an employee."
Two years later, in September 2010, Salt opened to rave reviews (it seated about 10,000 customers in the first 60 days) and remains one of Pittsburgh's top restaurants. It's also garnered national attention, earning two James Beard Foundation nominations in three years.
But it's time to move on.
Tuesday, Mr. Sousa announced he has sold his interest in the Penn Avenue restaurant to architects and co-owners Doug and Liza Cruze, so he has more time to focus on other professional pursuits, including Superior Motors, the new restaurant he's in the process of designing and building across the street from Edgar Thomson Steel Works in Braddock.
Anticipation for this latest venture is at fever pitch: Last month, Mr. Sousa made Kickstarter history when he raised $310,225 in just 33 days to fund the restaurant, which will be in a former car dealership at 1211 Braddock Ave. He exceeded his original goal of $250,000 by more than $60,000, in the process making Superior Motors the most-funded restaurant project in the crowd-sourcing site's history.
"Thinking about what my life will be like without Salt ... I feel a bit sad and choked up," Mr. Sousa said. "But I also feel invigorated and even more motivated in light of the outpouring of support for Superior Motors."
Construction is expected to begin within the next three months, with an opening-date goal of February 2015.
Chef Chad Townsend, who has been chef de cuisine for nearly two years, will take over as Salt's executive chef, while Melissa Horst will continue as general manager, a position she's held for a little more than a year.
Mr. Sousa will remain an active owner of Union Pig and Chicken and Station Street in East Liberty, and "will be developing new concepts to complement what we have already accomplished."
In a release, the Cruzes thanked Mr. Sousa for his dedication to the restaurant and said they were "fortunate to have Chad and Melissa on board, and their continued presence will ensure that Salt's dining experience and impeccable culinary standards will remain unchanged."
A Pittsburgh native, Mr. Townsend trained at Pennsylvania Culinary Institute and previously worked at Eleven Contemporary Kitchen and the celebrated La Nouvelle Maison de Marc Veyrat in Annecy, France.
Gretchen McKay: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.