Nonprofit Café Momentum is cooking up a plan to empower youth nationwide

A man puts his hand over the shoulder of a Cafe Momentum intern working

Five years after its founding, the upscale downtown Dallas restaurant Café Momentum — known for its smoked fried chicken and staffed by young people who have exited juvenile detention facilities — is taking its local solution to a national scale.  

This fall, Café Momentum, with the support of Stand Together Foundation, announced the launch of Momentum Advisory Collective, a newly formed  501(c)3 built to expand the successful Café Momentum restaurant and program beyond the Dallas city limits. Momentum Advisory will invest in new locations across the country that follow Café Momentum’s model: offering living wages, culinary job training, and wraparound support to young men and women coming out of juvenile facilities.  

Over the past five years, Café Momentum has quickly proven the efficacy of its approach, gaining national attention for its food and its impact. 

For award-winning chef Chad Houser, founder and chief executive, the secret sauce is more than what his team learns to whip up in the kitchen. It’s what he calls a “trauma-informed system of support.” 

Across the United States, nearly 60,000 youth under the age of 18 are incarcerated on any given day. Many find themselves in the criminal justice system as a result of childhood trauma, and the experiences of incarceration and reentry add new complexity. According to Chad and his team, that’s why a focus on job access alone is incomplete. Youth exiting the criminal justice system simply aren’t set up to thrive in the workplace.  

At Café Momentum, young men and women are met with empathy and offered holistic support to build job skills and self-worth over time. Through the Momentum model, interns participate in a paid 12-month internship that rotates through every aspect of the restaurant’s operations while case managers ensure stability in their well-being, educationl and personal endeavors. 

In 2017, Café Momentum joined Stand Together Foundation’s Catalyst Network, a group of more than 300 high-impact nonprofits. That opportunity helped Chad and his team refine their vision for expansion and set the stage for scale through a pop-up restaurant strategy, which they tested in Los Angeles, Nashville, and Miami, and by securing partnerships with national organizations like the NFL Players Coalition

Since becoming a Catalyst, Café Momentum’s flagship location has served more than 1,000 young people and now boasts an 85 percent success rate with kids avoiding recidivism, which is in stark contrast to the statewide average of nearly half of kids returning to the system. By decreasing the number of youth returning to crime, Café Momentum also saves taxpayer money — more than $34 million to date that would typically be put towards the costs of incarceration. 

“With a recidivism rate nearly three times lower than the Texas average, Café Momentum is demonstrating there is a better way to support our nation’s system-involved youth,” says Evan Feinberg, executive director of Stand Together Foundation. 

This fall, Chad was selected for the Smile With Lays campaign, bringing Café Momentum’s innovative strategy to a wider audience. His smile and Café Momentum’s story are featured on special-edition potato chip bags that generate donations for Operation Smile. Now, Stand Together Foundation’s commitment of $1.9 million will help transform the nonprofit’s growing reputation into meaningful scale.   

“We have a model to provide youth exiting juvenile detention facilities the support they need to truly thrive,” Chad says. “Now we are excited to put in the work to tailor local solutions to other communities around the country.” 

The crisis of youth incarceration is bigger than Dallas, and Momentum Advisory aims to find new markets with a significant population of justice-involved youth, demonstrated interest in Café Momentum’s model, and expanding food scenes. Its ultimate vision is a country where every young person has a clear path out of incarceration, into a fulfilling life and career.  

Alongside the initial financial investment, Stand Together Foundation is helping the Momentum Advisory team identify community-based organizations, restaurants, juvenile facilities, and other like-minded partners to make Momentum Advisory’s vision a reality.  

“We are committed to helping Café Momentum and Momentum Advisory reach as many people as possible, transforming lives and changing the way the country approaches juvenile justice,” Evan says.

Learn More About Café Momentum

Photo caption: Founder Chad Houser speaks with a Café Momentum intern 
Photo credit: Café Momentum