Café Momentum Gains Momentum

Caf%C3%A9+Momentum+Gains+Momentum

Café Momentum continues to expand and grow with a television appearance and plans for a brick-and-mortar restaurant.

Thirty-five pop-up din­ners, three years of work since its establishment and one feature seg­ment on a national television show later, Café Momentum has finally found a home.

Since speaking at Hocka­day on Oct. 21, Chad Houser, Ex­ecutive Director, chef and Co-founder of Café Momentum, has not only been featured on the Rachael Ray show, but has started construction on a new, full-service restaurant locat­ed at Thanksgiving Square in Downtown Dallas.

Café Momentum employs juvenile offenders from the Dallas area in paid internships to make meals and run din­ners. Since June 2011, Houser has worked with more than 160 young men to host monthly pop-up dinners, all of which have been sold out.

According to Café Momen­tum’s website, Café Momentum provides “intensive culinary, job and life-skill training” as well as “mentoring and support to foster successful reentry into the community.”

And this shows: for the in­terns at Café Momentum, the recidivism rate, which mea­sures the tendency of convicted individuals to relapse back into criminal be­havior, is 11 percent, contrast­ing the 47 percent that is the average in Texas.

Some Hockaday students, including sophomore Addie Walker, support Café Momen­tum’s cause.

“We often forget that the youth are in trouble too; we don’t give them second chanc­es. We think that if they’re bad now, they’re going to be bad later on,” Walker said. “They’re still kids, they still have a chance at life – too many people tell them they don’t.”

According to Houser, Cafe Momentum’s appearance on the Rachael Ray Show also gave this feeling of hope for the in­terns. “We had three young men who were interviewed and fea­tured on that show. You could basically see the swell of pride that they had,” Houser said.

Houser himself also gained a few other things from the ap­pearance. “I got a lot of random friend requests on Facebook,” Houser laughed, “which is kind of creepy.”

Houser also said that, af­ter repeatedly being told Café Momentum wouldn’t work by many of the people around him, the show gave it credibility.

“As I’ve joked before, when you say you’re going to take kids out of jail and teach them to play with knives and fire, people think you’re crazy,” Houser said. “[The show] is very validating to say, ‘No, I’m not crazy, I’m actually doing something right.’”

Darian Thomas, the Direc­tor of Case Management and Programs at Café Momentum, agrees. “It really boosted their confidence and it shows that what we’re doing, the concept, the fact that we believe that they have a future, is shared,” he said.

Café Momentum’s appear­ance on the Rachael Ray show provided it with the national presence that will be helpful strategically. Since the feature, Houser has been contacted by people from several different states about the restaurant.

The Café Momentum proj­ect will also continue to ex­pand with the opening of the new permanent restaurant. A primary focus is breaking the stereotype of who the interns are. “A lot of features have been strategic in creating interac­tions with the interns and the guests,” Houser said.

One example of these fea­tures is a dry erase board next to the host stand, which pro­vides the interns and guests with an opportunity to interact with each other through writ­ing. An intern at Café Momen­tum may write an greeting, recommendation or message of gratitude on the board, such as “I’m thankful for my mom” or “order the salmon, it’s going to be the best you’ve ever had.”

In response, guests can also write on the whiteboard with messages such as “I love the salmon tonight.” Thus, it be­comes a communications tool.

Inside the building, a class­room next to the restaurant will be built to give interns the skills and resources that they may not have. Classes such as parenting and financial liter­acy, government activism, so­cial media training, health care information, art lessons and book clubs will be available for the interns.

“With the classroom, we will be able to build relation­ships with the guys,” Thomas said. “For [the interns] to have a place that they can call their own, outside of the restaurant, that’s important.”

Houser also emphasizes the classroom’s importance. “We’re dealing with kids that literally have nothing,” Houser said. “Basic things like knowing what a bank account is, they don’t know them..”

Regardless of the television appearances, renovations and new expansions, Café Momen­tum continues to be what it was established to be: an organiza­tion to help juvenile offenders.

“These kids have been told since the day they were born they were a statistic, the cradle of prison pipeline,” Houser said. “For them to not only beat those odds but be featured on nation­al TV as a success story is a really big deal to those kids. It makes them feel like somebody.”

Café Momentum will open in January 2015 at 1510 Pacific Avenue in Downtown Dallas at Thanksgiving Square.


Jenny Zhu – Editor-In-Chief