Café Momentum is expanding its efforts to help young people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system.
The Dallas-based nonprofit/restaurant is partnering with Stand Together Foundation to launch Momentum Advisory Co. Stand Together has invested $1.9 million to support the effort, which will build programs to expand opportunities for youths.
The goal is one you’ve heard before through chef/owner Chad Houser’s Cafe Momentum: to build pathways out of incarceration so today’s at-risk youth have access to resources, opportunity and support. Houser accomplishes this by hiring such young people at his downtown restaurant.
“I think a lot of people categorize the work that we do as a second chance,” Houser says. “And what I would argue is that what we’re really doing is giving them a first chance. … This population of youth, the juvenile industry categorizes them as throwaways.”
In a way, when a minor goes to jail or prison and come out as outcasts, they’re reborn, Houser says. At Cafe Momentum they get a job and a comprehensive system to uplift them.
That was what Stand Together, which works with and funds entrepreneurs across the United States, saw happening in Dallas.
“The experience when you walk in the door at Cafe Momentum is unparalleled. You see individuals that are seen by others as throwaways running one of the best restaurants in the country,” says Evan Feinberg, executive director of Stand Together. “We knew there was something special there.”
Momentum Advisory Co. earned its nonprofit status this year, but Houser says he’s always seen his work growing.
“We’ve always had an eye towards growth and expansion, for a multitude of reasons — not only to work with more youth around the country but to begin to affect the way the juvenile system works.”
For now, expansion is one step at a time, he says.
“At the end of the day, there are lives at stake. We need to be intentional about our actions we take and very deliberate in working through to build the most effective organization,” he says.
Right now, there’s a “lean and mean” team working for Momentum Advisory.
“The work that we’re doing today is a little different than we thought we would be describing seven months ago,” Houser says.
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On top of tackling systemic issues, they’re figuring out how to expand their reach during a global pandemic. As Houser’s approach at the restaurant expands nationally, he’s looking at using his model. The foundation, he says, has helped him narrow down what exactly it is they're scaling.
“While I think the restaurant gets so much attention — as well it should, it’s a key component, it actually brings the youth that we serve and the public together, and building conversation and advocacy around it — but [it’s as important as] the other work that we do, which involves the ecosystem of support. Whether that’s our case management team, our psychologist, community services,” Houser says.
The goal is to roll out programs in other cities in 2021, then moving forward with two a year for the next five years, with a goal of 30 programs in the next 10 years.
“The secret sauce of what Chad has built is actually straightforward,” Feinberg says. "It’s the belief in the kids that Cafe Momentum serves, a belief that they’re capable of both ordinary and extraordinary things.”