Mixmaster presents "100 Creatives," in which we feature cultural entrepreneurs of Dallas in random order. Chad Houser loves his job. The former co-chef-owner at Parigi in Oak Lawn is living his dream, and giving the same opportunity to disadvantaged youths everyday, as Executive Director and Head Chef of Café Momentum. And to ask him, it's only getting better.
After hosting more than 40 pop-up dinners over the course of three years, Café Momentum will finally be lighting the burners of a brand new brick-and-mortar restaurant in the beginning of 2015. Houser and his crew are looking to make the new restaurant more than just a place to enjoy a quality meal. They want Café Momentum's new home to be a place of hope for the community.
Café Momentum is doing more than merely training juvenile offenders in the culinary arts. Houser and company are giving these kids a second chance, and changing the way Dallas looks at food every day.
In the meantime, Houser is hard at work preparing for the opening, but we were lucky enough to get a few minutes of his time while he was moving boxes of glassware out of storage. There may be no rest for the wicked, but in Houser's case there is no need for rest at all.
Has the Café Momentum team been working on any other projects, or has the focus been on getting ready for the restaurant opening in January? We are really just focused on the restaurant. We're doing catering, which has been very successful, but mid to late November we'll stop doing catering. We're already turning down events so that we can focus on getting all the pieces and parts of the restaurant ready to go.
When the restaurant is ready, will you still be hosting monthly pop-up events? We'll still do the monthly pop-up dinners, but they will be at the restaurant.
Café Momentum has worked with a lot of local chefs, but is there any that you haven't had the chance to get a hold of that, you'd like to work with in the future? Well of course. Just because scheduling we haven't had the opportunity to work with Stephan Pyles who we'd absolutely like to work with.
What was it like for you to transition form being a chef and a restaurateur to mentoring these kids in Café Momentum? Everything is transitionary. Restaurant hours you're working morning, noon and night. Café Momentum is very similar; you're working all hours of the night because of the kids. They have attention and help at all hours of the day. It's one thing to be in a restaurant working hands on with adults, it's a different thing to get a phone call from a kid whose just been kicked out of his house or whose child was just born and died two hours later. I don't think there are people that I ever get in the restaurant that could ever prepare me for that.
Do you ever miss being just a chef in a kitchen? Yes and no. I love coking more than anything in the world but I think working with these kids is so profoundly rewarding that I don't think there is any other job in the world where I would wake up so excited to be doing something other than cooking. It's funny because when you work in in a restaurant you don't really sleep and in this job, I don't want to sleep. I just want to go to work. If I could figure out a way not to sleep I'd be so happy.
Does part of that excitement come from how passionate you are about cooking? Oh, yeah definitely, and I mean these kids are just awesome and the opportunities to work with them, cooking and also working with them to make their lives better. It's beyond rewarding.
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Do you feel that in learning how to work in the restaurant industry that Café Momentum is giving these kids more than just work experience? It's a 12 month internship where [the kids] work through five stations in the restaurant. From washing dishes to waiting tables and everything in between ... we wrote a curriculum for every station and in addition to the responsibilities of that station we also list out the life and social skills that are applicable to that station. So they are getting a more well-rounded life skills and social skills training in a restaurant setting, but additionally we are building a 600 square foot classroom in the back of the restaurant. We'll have classes on everything from financial literacy to parenting classes. We are taking a holistic or wrap-around approach to working with these kids. So it's far more than just job training. We need to immerse them in all the tools and resources that they need, and that's our focus.
Do you think Dallas' culinary arts scene gives your graduates a better chance at finding a job and starting a career in the restaurant business? The short answer is absolutely. I was quoted one time before; I said Café momentum combines Dallas' two biggest passions, food and philanthropy. I think Dallas is a unique foodie city but it is definitely a foodie city. There is a very loyal and passionate group of people in this city that have helped to make a lot of people in my industry very successful. Whether they're owning restaurants, cooking, waiting tables or whatever. So I think that lends itself quite uniquely for these kids.
Now that you're months away from opening the doors of the Café, what are you looking forward to now? Honestly, getting to see the kids everyday. Right now we get to work with them, with the catering, a couple times a week. Being able to provide that environment for them, that's what 's most exciting to me. And the kids are so excited. The first day we started construction at the restaurant we did a volunteer day and for the kids we called it a giving back day. Part of the culture we're trying to impart upon them is that there are so many people in this city that have given to them through Café Momentum. Whether it be showing up at the dinners, donating sporting event tickets, clothes, donating money and that's a cultural thing. It's a culture of giving back to your community. So [the kids] spent ten hours on a Saturday scraping 5400 square feet of flooring, gutting out kitchen equipment, hard labor and the beautiful thing about that was the kids were referring to it as their restaurant. Every time I think about this restaurant opening I think about that day.
100 Creatives: 100. Theater Mastermind Matt Posey 99. Comedy Queen Amanda Austin 98. Deep Ellum Enterpriser Brandon Castillo 97. Humanitarian Artist Willie Baronet 96. Funny Man Paul Varghese 95. Painting Provocateur Art Peña 94. Magic Man Trigg Watson 93. Enigmatic Musician George Quartz 92. Artistic Luminary Joshua King 91. Inventive Director Rene Moreno 90. Color Mavens Marianne Newsom and Sunny Sliger 89. Literary Lion Thea Temple 88. Movie Maestro Eric Steele 87. Storytelling Dynamo Nicole Stewart 86. Collaborative Artist Ryder Richards 85. Party Planning Print maker Raymond Butler 84. Avant-gardist Publisher Javier Valadez 83. Movie Nerd James Wallace 82. Artistic Tastemakers Elissa & Erin Stafford 81. Pioneering Arts Advocates Mark Lowry & Michael Warner 80. Imaginative Director Jeremy Bartel 79. Behind-the-Scenes Teacher Rachel Hull 78. Kaleidoscopic Artist Taylor "Effin" Cleveland 77. Filmmaker & Environmentalist Michael Cain 76. Music Activist Salim Nourallah 75. Underground Entrepreneur Daniel Yanez 74. Original Talent Celia Eberle 73. Comic Artist Aaron Aryanpur 72. Classical Thespian Raphael Parry 71. Dance Captain Valerie Shelton Tabor 70. Underground Culture Mainstay Karen X. Minzer 69. Effervescent Gallerist Brandy Michele Adams 68. Birthday Party Enthusiast Paige Chenault 67. Community Architect Monica Diodati 66. Intrepid Publisher Will Evans 65. Writerly Wit Noa Gavin 64. Maverick Artist Roberto Munguia 63. Fresh Perspective Kelsey Leigh Ervi 62. Virtuosic Violinist Nathan Olson 61. Open Classical's Dynamic Duo Mark Landson & Patricia Yakesch 60. Rising Talent Michelle Rawlings 59. Adventurous Filmmaker Toby Halbrooks 58. Man of Mystery Edward Ruiz 57. Inquisitive Sculptor Val Curry 56. Offbeat Intellect Thomas Riccio 55. Doers and Makers Shannon Driscoll & Kayli House Cusick 54. Performance Pioneer Katherine Owens 53. Experimental Filmmaker and Video Artist Mike Morris 52. Flowering Fashioner Lucy Dang 51. Insightful Artist Stephen Lapthisophon 50. Dallas Arts District 49. Farmer's Market Localvore Sarah Perry 48. Technological Painter John Pomara 47. Progressive Playmakers Christopher Carlos & Tina Parker