Behind the doors of Café Momentum second chances are a reality, stereotypes are shattered, and smiles are abundant. This nonprofit restaurant provides internships to at-risk youth who have spent time in juvenile facilities. During the yearlong program, individuals rotate through five stations to learn the trades of the restaurant including cooking, waiting on customers, bussing tables, and more. In this nurturing environment, students are learning many skills and how each aspect of the restaurant ties into the other.
I had the honor of sitting down with Café Momentum’s brilliant founder, Chad Houser. Chad’s journey began when he volunteered to teach a handful of youth from the Dallas County Juvenile Justice Department to make ice cream for a competition at the Dallas Farmers Market. One of the teens Chad taught, won the competition and later expressed his passion for cooking to Chad. Chad was troubled by the fact that while he returned to his home that day, this young man went back to jail and would ultimately go back to the same environment that landed him in jail.
Chad reflected on his time with the youth and how he could make a difference. He decided he wanted to “open up a restaurant and let these kids run it.” At the time, Chad was a part owner and co-chef of the Dallas restaurant Parigi. After sharing his idea with his business partner, she was anxious to help. The two began organizing pop-up dinners in various Dallas restaurants. Tickets to the private dinners were sold and Chad, along with a small group of youth bused in from the Dallas County Juvenile Justice Department, took over the restaurant for the night, and served dinner to the guests. Dinners began selling out quickly and support from the community grew. Eventually Chad sold his share in Parigi to continue this program and in 2015, Café Momentum opened for business.
Café Momentum provides more than just a paid internship. Youth have caseworkers to help address anything they may be dealing with such as homelessness or lack of education. Caseworkers also work with the interns to set goals and create plans to positively impact their future such as getting their own apartment. In addition, Café Momentum has partnered with Parkland Hospital to provide healthcare for the interns and their families. Café Momentum also has relationships with the Joule Hotel, the Anatole Hotel, and other places around Dallas so graduating interns of Café Momentum are able to continue working in the restaurant business once they complete the program.
Café Momentum takes pride in using local, fresh ingredients many of which come from Bonton Farms, featured in my article last month (see link at bottom of page, if you missed it).Their menu has a range of choices and you can ‘taste’ the hard work and dedication that goes into their food. Café Momentum even makes their own cheese and pasta! At the end of the day, excess food is sent home with the interns.
My parents joined me for dinner at the restaurant and our food was amazing! We started with the charcuterie as our appetizer which included pickled vegetables and various meats. It was excellent. For my main course I had the scallops which were perfectly cooked and delicious. My mom had the smoked fried chicken which was super moist and my dad had pappardelle which was a rich pesto pasta dish topped with bacon and a fried egg. For dessert we enjoyed the Noble Coyote Smore, Crème Brûlée, and a fried pie which were all outstanding. Our service was great and all the interns were professional, engaging, and had smiles on their faces.
Chad created an open layout in the restaurant because he wanted to generate as much interaction between the interns and customers as possible. Chad and I discussed how putting people from different backgrounds in a room together breaks stereotypes and creates inclusivity for all. Interns are able interact with customers and build confidence.
If you are in the Dallas area please take the time to visit Café Momentum. The restaurant is only open for dinner Thursday- Saturday nights because during the day interns are in classes, training, or catering private events. I would recommend making reservations.
My words do not even begin to express my love and admiration for Café Momentum. It is truly something to experience for yourself. Chad is an inspiration and I am thankful for his dedication and hard work. He has impacted many lives. As of today, Café Momentum has worked with over 120 at risk youth. I am excited to watch them continue to grow and change the lives of others.