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Parigi Owners to Launch Cafe Momentum, a Nonprofit Restaurant Staffed by At-Risk Kids

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Parigi co-owners Janice Provost and Chad Houser are opening a nonprofit restaurant concept called Café Momentum that will double as a culinary training facility for disadvantaged youth, allowing teens to work with real chefs.

To get the word out and the funds raised, Provost and Houser are launching a monthly pop-up dinner series, which will feature Dallas area chefs. First up: June 5, at Milestone Culinary Arts Center. (Locations for the dinners will vary.) The star chef that night will be Jeffery Hobbs, chef-partner at Suze Restaurant.

A five-course meal will be created by Hobbs for the event, and the students will be on hand to help prep, plate, and serve. The cost is $50 per person and is BYOB. For reservations, visit www.cafemomentum.org.

Café Momentum will primarily support the Dallas County Youth Village, "a juvenile residential facility for nonviolent adjudicated young men ages 13-17." A culinary program, supported by Youth Village Resources of Dallas and the North Texas Food Bank, already exists at the facility.

"The initial idea for Cafe Momentum came from a chef mentorship program that Jerry Silhan (Executive Director of Youth Village Resources of Dallas) and I were trying to put together two years ago," Houser explains. "I could not wrap my brain around a comprehensive enough plan/model to comfortably go forward.

"I had a conversation with Janice Provost (my partner at Parigi) one night telling her that I thought a restaurant that would serve as a training ground, confidence builder, and spring board for the boys at the YV was the only route to go. She and I got so excited that we stayed up til the wee hours creating a fairly thorough draft of exactly how we wanted our idea to operate. I then told Jerry that I had a crazy idea (I even called it a pipe dream), and he was 100% supportive."

Students will learn basic culinary skills and then, once they graduate, receive paid internships working in the Youth Village kitchen. Down the line, they'll have the chance to work for one year at Café Momentum, internship-style.

It's a major endeavor, but Houser says doing it was an easy decision: "It means something to me. I live a dream; I am lucky enough to get paid to do something that I would gladly do for free. There are people in this world that aren't given such a fair opportunity."

Similar deals exist around the world, including Fifteen, run by the Jamie Oliver Foundation; Café Reconcile in New Orleans; and FareStart in Seattle.

"My long term hope for Cafe Momentum is that we can prove it to be a self-sustaining business model that could be replicated to continue the systemic change that I spoke of earlier," Houser says. "For the kids participating, I hope they leave with confidence and pride; that they walk away knowing that they are in charge of their own lives, and being excited about that."

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