Since 2011, Cafe Momentum has hosted 1,350 guests at its 18 pop-up dinners. Those 18 dinners have included a total of 80 courses and 6,039 plates, served by 84 young men. One detail sets these dinners apart from the rest of the Dallas culinary scene—they’re staffed by young men from the Dallas County Youth Village, a juvenile detention center for nonviolent male offenders.

The concept was conceived by Chad Houser and Janice Provost. It all began with Mama Ida’s Ice Cream Social, an event part of the Dallas Farmers Market Friends. This event gives culinary students the opportunity to craft their own ice cream—their creations, featuring local ingredients, are then voted upon with the chance of being selected as one of the top three. In 2007, Chad began working with students from the culinary program at the Dallas County Youth Village.

Chad then began to think—how could they create sustainable change for these young men, and provide them with guidance after their release? The teenagers he had encountered were already improving their lives in detention, learning social and practical skills that would benefit them later in life. They were starting down a positive path, but would benefit further from structure and consistency post-release. The answer came to be a chef mentorship program.

The ultimate goal of Cafe Momentum is to open a permanent restaurant, which will serve as a post-release paid internship for the adjudicated teenagers. As interns, they will work in all areas of the restaurant—washing dishes, prepping food, cooking, bussing and waiting tables. Regardless of which area they’re working in, the young men will earn $10 per hour, a rate above the living wage in Dallas county.

The pop-up dinners currently serve to prove that this model can actually work—the young men are perfectly capable of working in these high performance roles, and have consistently exceeded expectations. The dinners also serve to raise money and awareness about the concept.

Our team attended the most recent pop-up dinner at Driftwood, and confirmed what we already knew—that the Cafe Momentum team is doing an amazing thing for these young men. Not only are they learning skills that will we helpful when pursuing careers after their release (the multi-course meal was delicious and perfectly served), but their confidence and feelings of self-worth have skyrocketed.

To see their grins while receiving a standing ovation after the dinner had wrapped up was incredibly moving, to say the least.

Thank you to Chad and his entire team for having us! We hope that on our next visit to Dallas we’ll be dining at the permanent Cafe Momentum location.

Photos by Collin Hughes