A not-for-profit restaurant focuses on bettering the lives of at-risk youths, all the while serving cuisine worthy of widespread recognition.
Café Momentum is, financially speaking, operating at a deficit of about $40,000 to $50,000 each month. But there’s a lot more to the not-for-profit restaurant that began as a series of Sunday pop-up dinners around the Dallas community and soon was being sold out in 15 minutes at $100 a seat.
The restaurant, which partners with the Dallas County Juvenile Department, serves as a culinary training facility for adjudicated young men, hoping to transform the lives of at-risk youths and reduce a state recidivism rate that is nearly 50 percent for juvenile offenders. Not to mention, serving New American cuisine that led to the restaurant being named the Best New Restaurant of 2015 by the Dallas Observer.
The five-part program at Café Momentum features a paid internship, which rotates the kids through every job in the restaurant and concentrates on helping develop leadership, social, and vocational skills.
“We spend a lot of time addressing our interns’ needs and getting into their lives,” says Darian Thomas, chief program officer for Café Momentum. “As this program grows, you begin to realize there are so many things we can do for these kids—secure healthcare, spend time in court with them, work with their attorneys, and help them assimilate back into the community by creating a very loving and nurturing work environment.”
Thomas says the youth work anywhere from 30 to 40 hours a week and get paid $10 an hour. Chad Houser, who serves as executive director and executive chef, created the restaurant after an experience teaching eight youths at a detention center how to make ice cream. The event touched his heart and broadened his perspective.
“From the moment I met them, I realized I had always stereotyped these kids,” Houser says. “I was wrong. Every single one of them called me sir and looked me right in the eye. I had spent 18 years in the kitchen and I was called many, many things in several languages, and sir was not one of them.”
Thomas says the Café Momentum experience makes an impact on diners and interns alike. “Our guests see the kids for who they are, not what their past has been. They hug the interns and offer their support and encouragement.”
The restaurant was five years in the planning stages and began with a series of pop-up dinners held at various Dallas restaurants on Sunday nights when those businesses were closed. The first dinner hosted 50 guests at $50 apiece and brought in eight youths from juvenile detention to work in the kitchen and service. By the time the 41st dinner was held, more than three and a half years later, tickets sold out in 15 minutes and went for $100 each.