Last night was no ordinary Cafe Momentum pop-up dinner. At first it felt familiar: a top Dallas toque led a team of young men from the Dallas County Youth Village to prep, cook and serve a multicourse meal to diners hungry for good food that supported a good cause. But guests didn’t know that, near the end of the evening, Cafe Momentum co-founder Chad Houser would announce his departure from Parigi to run the social enterprise full-time.
So what, exactly, is a social enterprise? Essentially, it’s a business driven by social, cultural, economic or environmental change, rather than revenue. Put another way, for a social enterprise, mission trumps income.
Cafe Momentum is one such enterprise in Dallas. Founded by Houser and his partner at Parigi, Janice Provost, this nonprofit restaurant concept aims to transform young lives by equipping our community’s most at-risk youth with life skills, education and employment opportunities so they can realize their full potential.
Since June 2011, Cafe Momentum has taught culinary skills—and life skills—to dozens of disadvantaged youth through regular pop-up dinners with the city’s top chefs.
Since June 2011, in conjunction with programs funded by the Youth Village Resources of Dallas, Cafe Momentum has taught culinary skills — and life skills — to dozens of disadvantaged youth through regular pop-up dinners with the city’s top chefs. These dinners not only raise money and awareness for the organization and its mission, but they also provide the young men incarcerated at the Dallas County Youth Village with the opportunity to learn alongside Dallas chefs who, like Provost and Houser, want to make a difference. And, by all accounts, they do. The young men leave the Youth Village with skills, contacts and, most important, confidence.
On July 29, 2012, Graham Dodds of Central 214 became the 17th chef-mentor for a group of young men who participate in a culinary program at the Youth Village, where they learn basic kitchen skills and and receive their Dallas County Registered Foodservice Handlers Permit. Under Dodds’ direction, they prepped, cooked and plated a four-course meal for a crowd of about 80, many of whom have attended every dinner since last June. These diners are as critical to Cafe Momentum’s mission as its board members and volunteers. Until recently, I was one of those volunteers, and now I sit on the board of advisors. I am forever changed by the experience.
That night the boys made manchego-quince skewers and Windy Meadows chicken liver toast with chanterelle conserva as passed apps. Dinner comprised Eden’s Organic Farm arugula salad with Parmigiano-Reggiano and Texas olive oil; red snapper with artichokes, grapes and ajo blanco; PBR braised beef cheeks with avocado, sunflower sprout slaw and jalapeño cornbread; and goat ricotta cheesecake with orange glaze and candied pine nuts. To be sure, the ingredients and preparation seemed foreign to these students, who rarely, if ever, cooked a meal for themselves prior to going to the Youth Village. But more foreign to them was the feedback they received over and over again from those teaching and attending — words as simple as the phrase “good job.”
“It’s not every day you get to bet your career on a bunch of juvenile offenders,” Houser joked on his Facebook page.
Soon Cafe Momentum will be more than just a once-every-six-week gig for these young men. It will be a real bricks-and-mortar restaurant, where young men — and, yes, young women — in trouble can work, build confidence and succeed. To date, the organization has raised more than $150,000 toward its $400,000 goal, mainly through pop-up dinners, donations and grass-roots efforts such as Bolsa Mercado’s dinners for two and Noble Coyote Coffee Roasters Cafe Momentum blend, which will be available for purchase at the end of August. A portion of the sale of both goes directly into Cafe Momentum’s coffers.
Each pop-up dinner has a different yet familial flavor, thanks to the venue, the guest chef, the group of young men, the patrons and the stories shared, all of which changes a little each time. But this one at Central 214 will forever be remembered as the night co-founder Chad Houser announced he was taking a more permanent position at Cafe Momentum, as its executive director and executive chef. “I can’t think of anyone else better suited to the job than Chad,” said Provost of her partner of four years.
Two days following the announcement, Houser, always the jokester, posted on his Facebook page, “It’s not every day you get to bet your career on a bunch of juvenile offenders. Let the good times roll.” Kidding aside, on September 1, he will become Dallas’ next great social entrepreneur, a change-agent for whom community impact takes priority over profit.