Story by Amy Harrell. Photos courtesy of Stand Together Foundation.
You might have heard rumblings recently about Café Momentum and the Momentum Advisory Collective. We caught up with Evan Feinberg, Executive Director of the Stand Together Foundation to unpack the details around this exciting new initiative which takes the concept of Café Momentum nationwide. This is great news for fans of Café Momentum, the downtown-Dallas restaurant which provides at-risk youth with employment, life skills, and wraparound support. Now supported by the Stand Together Foundation, CEO Chad Houser has launched the Momentum Advisory Collective (MAC), which will take the sustainable model of Café Momentum to a national platform and bring cafés to cities around the country.
If you haven’t heard about Café Momentum, let’s back up. Chad Houser started the restaurant as a 12-month paid post-release internship program for young men and women coming out of juvenile facilities. They rotate through all aspects of the restaurant, focusing on life and social skills, coaching and development. The goal is to keep at-risk youth from going back into the juvenile justice system. Nearly half of the kids in Dallas who make their way out of juvenile detention will be back there within a year, and a majority of these kids are homeless. The odds are stacked against them. The Café Momentum approach is one of care and support. Says Feinberg, “They are demonstrating that if we set high expectations on these kids, empower them, support them, love them and believe in them, these kids can run, not just any old restaurant but one of the finest restaurants in all of Texas, and they’re delivering phenomenal results and that just changes the trajectory of these kids lives. It actually transforms how everyone begins to think about juvenile justice.”
This model has been so successful in Dallas that they are seeing a recidivism rate of 15%, compared to the statewide average of 43%. And Chad Houser wants a café in every city. That is what the Stand Together Foundation and Momentum Advisory Collective have set out to accomplish.
So what is the role of Stand Together Foundation?
They get involved with the top nonprofits in the country to influence societal-level change through social entrepreneurship. “We’ve got a pretty big vision and that’s to break the cycle of poverty in America, and what we think needs to happen is that the entire country needs to start thinking about and tackling the problem of poverty differently. Too often, those that are trying to solve poverty look at individuals experiencing poverty as problems to manage rather than believing in them and their inherent dignity, capabilities and extraordinary potential. And we need to think the problem of poverty is one of essentially an innovation problem, where we need social entrepreneurs who see people for their extraordinary potential. But there are some barriers preventing them from tapping into their gifts and talents to contribute. And so we need social entrepreneurs that are effectively helping more people to tap into their gifts and thrive,” says Feinberg. Believing wholeheartedly in what Chad Houser has accomplished with Café Momentum, Stand Together has made an investment of $1.9 million dollars to start the initiative through the Momentum Advisory Collective.
How can you help?
There is much work to be done, and there ARE cafés being planned in a couple other cities, but they are not ready to announce them yet. We are waiting on pins and needles to find out! As you can imagine, a lot of pieces need to come together. For each new restaurant location, they need funding, partnerships forged within the local juvenile justice system, and social entrepreneurs who are passionate about supporting youth and who approach at-risk youth through a lens of love and support. “It’s a talent driven organization in terms of not only the executive director, but also the staff of the organization who needs to work directly with kids and requires a special kind of staff, not your traditional social worker. It’s got to be someone who’s going to really love and empower these kids to live up to their potential. It’s got to be folks who can help them do so in a tough and challenging environment like a restaurant,” Feinberg says. They need visionaries. They need the Chad Housers of the country to step forward. Visit the MAC website for more information about starting other Café Momentum sites nationwide.
Pre-Covid, Houser and his team hosted popup dinners in places like Nashville, Los Angeles, and Miami where youth from local detention facilities were trained to cook and cater. Currently, the team is focused on expansion and building new Restaurants and Community Services Centers. Sign up here for updates on Café Momentum news and events. And, in partnership with the NFL Players Coalition, they are also hosting a virtual dinner series to expand the relationship during the pandemic between the youth of Café Momentum, Players Coalition and leaders in juvenile justice from across the country. These intimate events educate the youth on their civil rights while also providing a space for open dialogue and personal connection through stories of perseverance and a drive for achieving one’s potential. The next virtual dinner is November 19th from 6:30-8:00p. The Zoom link is to register is here.
Feinberg has one last piece of advice: Go try Chad’s world famous smoked fried chicken. The COVID-19 pandemic is hitting the restaurant industry hard. You can support the Dallas restaurant with a donation, making a reservation to eat in the restaurant, or ordering from the restaurant through Favor or DoorDash. The restaurant is open Thursday-Saturday, from 5:30p-10:30p. To book a reservation, go to resy.com.