Cafe Momentum Dinner at Dee Lincoln’s In Dallas

Founder Chad Houser explains Café Momentum's Purpose

I attended the Café Momentum dinner at Dee Lincoln’s Tasting Room and Bubble Bar on Sunday night. From one perspective it was just like many other charity fund raisers that I have attended. Great chef – Juliard Ishizuka. Great wine – Oak Cliff Cellars. Great Hostess – Dee Lincoln. Great service, and great guests. Dig a little deeper, however, and you find that the beneficiaries of the Café Momentum program are actually working at the benefit in an occasion that is, for them, part of their training. Those beneficiaries are the young men in the Youth Village Resources of Dallas (YVRD), a juvenile residential facility with the goal of rehabilitating young offenders by providing them with the tools to gain employment when they have completed their programs.

The programs include computer skills, financial literacy, nutrition and culinary arts, a dog handler program, and Café Momentum. At a Café Momentum dinner, young men in the YVRD program participate in each phase of the food service process. They are most visible to attendees in their role as smartly-dressed waiters at the front of the house. In the kitchen they assist with the food service under the direction of Chef Ishizuka’s staff. They also clean the dishes after service with the restaurant’s regular staff. In order that they each see the whole process and that we see all them, the back-of-house the team switched with the front-of-house team half way through. Thus, one group of guys served our White and Green Asparagus Salad with Brown Butter and Mustard Vinaigrette and Speck and they also handled the baroque Fata Steamed Bass with Enoki, Nappa and Fennel. The team that helped chef cook those items then served us our Braised Pork Belly on Apple and Fava Bean Puree and our Cornmeal Shortcakes with Strawberries and Mascarpone (which the first team helped prepare!).

The only unchanging human form in all this appears to be Jim Richardson, CEO of Oak Cliff Cellars, who pours his own wine to all the guests.

Fata Steamed Bass with Enoki, Nappa and Fennel (before opening)
Fata Steamed Bass with Enoki, Nappa and Fennel (after opening)

At the end of the evening the young men return to the YVRD facility in Hutchins. The attendees return home. But the funds raised go towards the $250,000 goal of creating a permanent Café Momentum facility in which these young men would work for up to twelve months after leaving YVRD, and at a starting salary of $10/hour. Right now, the funds raised stand at over $110,000 since the charity’s start in May of last year. The largest donation thus far was for $50,000 at the dinner at Hibiscus. As Jennifer Chininis, volunteer PR for Café Momentum and former D managing editor said “the donor just asked that his wine glass be kept filled.”

Café Momentum is the brainchild of Chad Houser and Janice Provost, co-owners of Parigi. Rather than join the other diners in mutual self-satisfaction, I decided to show my inherent malevolence towards my fellow man by cross-examining Chad Houser about the economics:

AC: So, assume the permanent Café Momentum is open, rather than all this cooking, why not just lock them up and throw away the key?

CH: The short answer is that if this program leads to them holding down a job rather than returning to incarceration for a year, the taxpayer is saved $100,000.

AC: If Café Momentum prevents three recidivists, it has paid for itself?

Braised Pork Belly on Apple and Fava Bean Puree

CH: Indeed. Plus those working men earn a starting wage of $10./hour. They pay taxes, which go back into the community.

AC: But I don’t think fancy schemes like Café Momentum stops recidivism any more than just releasing the guys straight onto the street.

CH: For Cafe Momentum specifically, this number is currently not trackable. Once a permanent location is established, our on-staff case manager will have record of all employees. However, last year YVRD commissioned a study (through the generosity of the Dallas Foundation) to be conducted by The University of Texas at Dallas that researched recidivism rates among the young men that had completed some of the pre-release programs at the Youth Village. The findings showed that the young men completing just one of those programs had a recidivism rate under 14%. The state average is 50%. It is important to note that Cafe Momentum will be the first post-release program.

AC: What is the graduation rate (i.e. successful completion rate) among Cafe Momentum grads?

CH: We will not know until we have a permanent location and can track that each year. As it stands with the “pop-ups,” we only have contact with the young men once every six weeks. With a permanent location, we will be employing them 5 days a week, thus being able to incorporate an actual life skill training curriculum.

Chef Juliard Ishizuka discusses the menu