Topics & Perspectives

Café Momentum: Helping Young People Thrive

Café Momentum is Helping Dallas’ Most Vulnerable Youth Reach Their Highest Potential

Submitted by: Laura Beth Lopez ~ 

In 2011, the hottest dinner reservation in Dallas wasn’t for an exotic tasting menu or at the top of a tower with skyline views. It was for dinner prepared and served by justice-involved youth — many of which sold out within seconds.

Founder/CEO Chad Houser
Founder/CEO Chad Houser

Both the dinners and the opportunities they created were the brainchild of Chad Houser, Café Momentum’s founder and CEO. In 2008, he had the opportunity to teach a group of young people from Dallas County Youth Detention how to make ice cream for a contest.

They were not only keen students, but they also went on to win the contest and enthusiastically ask about their chances in the restaurant field post-release. Chad soon realized that, although these youth wanted a chance and were willing to work for it, the odds were stacked against them.

He learned, for instance, Black and African-American youth are disproportionately incarcerated and receive more severe dispositions for the same crimes than other groups, and that 75% of youth in the justice system have experienced trauma contributing to PTSD. He also learned that being connected to wraparound services reduces the risk of justice involvement.

Moved by these inequities, Chad and a group of like-minded individuals set about creating a paid, post-release restaurant internship program in the kind of supportive environment that would help these young people to thrive.

In 2015, Cafe Momentum, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, opened its doors in downtown Dallas and welcomed its first cohort of interns.

Executive Sous Chef Jordan Criss and former Café Momentum intern Kewan
Executive Sous Chef Jordan Criss and former Café Momentum intern Kewan

Today, the Café Momentum internship increases stability, education, and employment in 150 Dallas-area justice-involved youth each year through paid internships and workforce development set in the lauded Café Momentum restaurant.

Café Momentum provides a transformative experience through paid internships for justice-involved youth.

Our interns rotate through all aspects of the restaurant, focusing on life, social skills, coaching, and development.

We’ve reimagined the way life skills are handed down to the next generation of foodservice workers.

With our guidance, our young culinary professionals hone their craft by proudly serving fresh, locally sourced, sophisticated new American cuisine in the nation’s largest cities.

Every meal is prepared and served by our award-winning team of chefs and the young people involved in our program.

Former Café Momentum intern Christina
Former Café Momentum intern Christina

In addition to learning all stations of a working restaurant, interns receive full wraparound care, including case management support to re-enroll in an accredited education program or our on-site high school, critical housing, food and medical needs, and counseling with licensed therapists, among other services.

Thanks to the backing of community supporters, Café Momentum provides interns with resources, support, and access to opportunity to help them achieve their true potential.



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