Gaining Momentum: Launching a National Conversation About Juvenile Justice

Published May 19, 2021 at 10:21am
Story by Mary Martin. Photos courtesy of Café Momentum and Stand Together Foundation.

Nashville and Pittsburgh may not look much like Dallas, but the big, bright ideas that Café Momentum launched on Pacific Avenue are expanding north, bringing with them the hope that the juvenile justice system can be reimagined.

Backed by nearly $2 million in funding from the Stand Together Foundation, the new Momentum Advisory Collective (M.A.C.) will take the vision, programming, and advocacy that first began with an ice cream lesson from chef Chad Houser, and work with cities across the country to create a holistic support network for system-involved youth. Job training in the restaurant industry is paired with education support, help from a dedicated social worker, and mental healthcare.

Chad Houser with some of the Café Momentum interns.

Chad Houser with some of the Café Momentum interns.

Nashville and Pittsburgh are the first two locations outside Dallas in a long-term goal to reach 50 cities before 2050, transforming more than 200,000 lives over the next 30 years. “We have been working towards expansion for several years now, and whether it’s codifying our processes and systems into a playbook, or whether it’s doing pop-up dinners around the country—we getting out there and meeting folks in communities around the country that are doing work with the same population of young people,” Chad says. “We can begin to build relationships and partnerships and learn what’s going on in those communities. Our organization recognizes and embraces the fact that communities are not monolithic. So, what are the pressing needs? What’s the culture and what resources are available to youth in Pittsburgh? How is that different than in Dallas? We are intentional about becoming students and learners.” 

Evan Feinberg, Executive Director, Stand Together Foundation

Evan Feinberg, Executive Director, Stand Together Foundation

As a restaurant-forward organization, a thriving food scene is crucial in any new city, but the M.A.C. team also gathered inspiration from people like Judge Sheila Calloway in Nashville and Sam Reiman, Director of the Richard King Mellon Foundation Foundation in Pittsburgh. Evan Feinberg, Executive Director for Stand Together is a native of Pittsburgh, and though that didn’t play a role in choosing the city for the 2021 M.A.C. launch, Evan can see the possibilities of connection for every city where a Café Momentum is launched. “It is neighbor to neighbor,” Evan says.” But it’s also about business leaders or hiring managers at a company that’s thinking about whether to hire a young adult who’s been part of the criminal justice system. For us to make dramatic changes moving forward, it’s not just about policy change. It’s not just helping kids who have been part of the juvenile justice system. We are changing the prevailing mental model in society, away from thinking about people through their deficiencies.” 

Beyond new restaurants in new cities, Café Momentum is changing the narrative around juvenile justice with their new documentary, premiering on June 1. Building Momentum is a 50-minute film that takes a deep dive into the Momentum model for juvenile justice, and what it looks like to provide employment, life skills training, and wrap-around care to the young people who are part of the Café Momentum family in Dallas. The documentary shares not only the perspective of the M.A.C. team, but also civic leaders, as well as stories from interns who have completed their program.

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The Nashville and Pittsburgh locations will ramp up this summer with a series of pop-up dinners, reminiscent of how Café Momentum began in Dallas more than five years ago. And the Dallas location of Café Momentum will remain the hub for innovation and partnerships. “Everyone always wants to pay homage to the flagship restaurant, as they should,” Evan says. “Dallas as a community has rallied around Café Momentum. The other nonprofits in the community are partnering with Café Momentum. Businesses are hiring the interns coming out of Café Momentum’s programming. When people want to do a special event in Dallas, they are making a reservation for their group at Café Momentum. The success of the Dallas restaurant will be the model for the country and the folks in Dallas should be proud of what they’ve done to nurture this bottom-up community solution. It’s not just something Chad did, this is something that the city of Dallas should be really proud of.”

To stay up to date with new restaurant openings, follow Momentum Advisory Collective on social media. And to watch the nationwide livestream of the new documentary on June 1, register at

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