Café Momentum, a Dallas-based restaurant and culinary training facility, transforms young lives by equipping our community’s most at-risk youth with life skills, education and employment opportunities to help them achieve their full potential.
Café Momentum is a restaurant training platform that provides post-release paid internships for juvenile offenders through which they will receive intensive culinary, job, and life-skill training as well as continued mentoring and support to foster successful re-entry into the community. In addition to significantly reducing recidivism, we create opportunities for long-term, sustainable (legal) employment for a demographic that would otherwise continue to burden the justice system and taxpayers.
Café Momentum is a gathering place where members of our community engage with each other in ways that break down stereotypes and preconceived notions. It is a place where individuals are given the opportunity to interact with people that they may not otherwise encounter in a place where all are given the opportunity to give and receive, teach and be taught, and stretch and grow.
Café Momentum is an idea that something as simple as a meal can address some of our community’s most pressing problems. From teaching sustainable gardening to address hunger; teaching cooking skills and nutritional education to populations plagued by childhood obesity, diabetes and heart disease; providing employment skills inherent in a restaurant such as accountability, professionalism, time management, and presentation to give a demographic typically unable to find and keep long-term employment a better chance of obtaining that critical job that could pull them and their families from poverty; and, finally, nourishing both the physical and spiritual with the belief that doing so will equip these young men to move forward to live out their full potential. It is an idea that we can “Eat. Drink. Change Lives.”
No organization has ever changed the world with mediocre goals. And so it was that Café Momentum was created – with big dreams and lofty goals.
In Texas, more than 60,000 young people are incarcerated each year. What are these crimes? Truancy and being born into a family that can’t pay the fine. Selling drugs or stealing to eat or pay rent to your parents to avoid getting kicked out or to buy medication for a younger sibling. Being with the wrong crowd at the wrong time because that is survival in their neighborhood.
Statistics say that upon release, one out of two young men will return within one year and of those that commit a second offense, they are almost guaranteed to spend the rest of their lives in and out of the criminal justice system. If they offend as an adult, then at best they will find minimum-wage employment, but it is more likely that in between prison stays they, and their families, will be dependent on government assistance or continued illegal means of survival for the rest of their lives. But there’s another option.
If a young person who has made one mistake can avoid going back in for one year, then it is drastically less likely that they will be a life-long offender. Additionally, because their offense was made as a juvenile (and who hasn’t made mistakes as a juvenile?), they have an opportunity to move forward in life with a hard lesson but a clean record. So how does that happen?
Give them a JOB. Give them GUIDANCE. Give them ENCOURAGEMENT. Give them HOPE.
Inspired by the success of the culinary program at the Dallas County Youth Village, a residential juvenile detention facility in Dallas County, a group of passionate individuals began to grow the idea of a chef-mentorship program to continue improving the skills being taught to the young men literally “in the kitchen”. The idea was to pair program graduates with a chef-mentor and provide a paid internship with the possibility of permanent employment to incentivize positive choices and ease the reintegration process once the young men were released.
The first challenge: the worst economic recession in recent history was wreaking havoc on the restaurant industry, resulting in many restaurants cutting back on staff or closing. This uncertain environment made it impossible to put together a program with consistency and stability as its benchmarks, two attributes that are vital to the long-term success of the young men.
The Café Momentum solution: we’ll just build our own restaurant.
The second challenge: raising money for a restaurant to be staffed by young people recently released from juvenile detention where they can earn a higher-than-living wage, receive ongoing case management, be taught financial literacy and career skills, and begin to believe there is an opportunity for a better future.
The Café Momentum solution: prove that these young people – deemed “throwaways” by the system (and in many ways society too) – are capable of working with the best chefs in the City and of providing first-class, fine-dining service.
In June 2011, the first Café Momentum pop-up dinner featured Chef Jeffrey Hobbs. Prior to the tickets going on sale, the organizers were prepared to pressure friends and family to attend out of fear that no one would purchase tickets. Instead, the dinner was oversold before they could turn the ticketing system off. Since then, the monthly Café Momentum pop-up dinners continue to showcase the best chefs in Dallas, working with Dallas County Youth Village residents, and tickets regularly sell out in seconds.
The third challenge: finding a top-notch chef to teach these young people how to cook, bus, wait, and host while also overseeing a program to teach the social skills that can provide them with life-changing employment and life-skills that can provide the path out of poverty for them, their families and future generations.
The Café Momentum solution: overwhelm Chef Chad Houser, who had been part of Café Momentum’s inception, with the power of its life-altering potential to improve the lives of the young people it serves.
As is so often the case, it is the personal, one-on-one interactions that change us. As Chad continued to get to know the young men through the culinary program and pop-up dinners, he began to recognize not only the impact on the lives of young men, but also the impact of those diners who were quickly becoming passionate supporters. Chad sold his partnership interest in his popular restaurant and signed on as Café Momentum’s CEO and Executive Chef.
Our next challenge: continue the momentum. We have witnessed first-hand how young men at pop-up dinners stand up straighter, hold their heads up, begin to believe that they are not defined by their mistakes, their poverty, the color of their skin.
The overwhelming support of the chef-community, the Dallas “foodie” community, influential community partners such as Youth Village Resources of Dallas, the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas and Dallas Social Venture Partners, as well as from the Dallas County Juvenile Department and growing numbers of every-day individuals who promise that “if we build it, they will come”, continues to push our big dream closer to achieving those lofty goals.
We are close to finalizing a location in the heart of downtown Dallas that is more than we could have ever imagined. We are building out additional programming with educational partners, business leaders, and those at the forefront of the social innovation movement. We are changing the way our community thinks about rehabilitation and juvenile justice. We continue to witness the amazing impact of Café Momentum on not only the young men we have worked with, but also on those who have gotten to know them through a pop-up, through volunteering, or through simply learning about their stories.
Yes, something as simple as a meal CAN change lives.
More than 60,000 Texas youths
enter the Juvenile Justice system every year
enter Dallas County Juvenile Justice custody each year
... a second incarceration costs $125,000 per child
Statewide re-arrest rate is 66% and 27.4% are re-incarcerated
Career criminals commit an average of 2-4 assaults and 5-10 property crimes annually
Adult criminals spend 5-15 years in criminal behavior and 8 years in the prison system
Juveniles who become adult Career Criminals are estimated to cost taxpayers $1.7-2.3 million
CAFE MOMENTUM, without yet launching our full-time post-release program, has a recidivsim rate of 10-13%.
Keeping 66 youth out of jail saves $8,250,000 each year
Keeping 16 kids from career criminal status saves $27- $36 million.