Stroll along Pacific Avenue in downtown Dallas and you’ll find Cafe Momentum. Inside, there’s more than just food, there’s second chances.
Jonathan Medina, 18, is like most of the young male employees at the restaurant. He ran into trouble with the law.
“I was incarcerated two years ago for stealing,” said Medina. “I was a bit nervous at first [being hired at Cafe Momentum]. At first they had me as a busboy, a rather simple job.”
Jacob Liticker has a similar story. He was arrested at age 14 for breaking into homes with a gun.
“You lose a lot of your childhood ’cause you’re on probation,” said Liticker. “You have curfews. You can’t do all the things the other kids do.”
Medina and Liticker know their childhoods are over, but thanks to Cafe Momentum, not their futures.
“This downtown restaurant staffed by at-risk youth who serve as waiters and cooks is much more than a ‘feel good’ non-profit,” said Cafe Momentum founder Chad Houser.
Seven years ago, Houser came up with the idea for the restaurant, taking his skills as a chef and turning it into something more.
“I realized at that time, not to the extent that I know now, but it was pretty obvious pretty quick that no one really does anything for these kids,” said Houser. “There’s not a whole lot of services and programs for a population of kids that have been deemed ‘throw away’ by society.”
NBC 5, Telemundo 39 in partnership with the NBCUniversal Foundation awarded Cafe Momentum a $25,000 grant for its work with the Dallas County Juvenile Justice Department.
In 12 months, the young men at Cafe Momentum learn life skills and job skills.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 67.5 percent of offenders in the United States were rearrested in the first three years of being released from behind bars.
Houser works with hundreds of youth in the Dallas area that had the option through the courts to join Cafe Momentum. So far, only 11 of them were sent back to jail.
“For me it’s an incredible feeling, but more than just saying, ‘Yeah, we kept them out of jail,'” said Houser. “It’s…creating opportunity for amazing individuals. Every single one of these kids are incredible. They’re smart. They’re charismatic. They’re hard working and they really truly care. They’ve literally just never give opportunity.”
The young workers at Cafe Momentum are paid $10 an hour. They learn how to make fancy foods like grilled shrimp in hand torn pasta or smoked fried chicken with mashed potatoes. Guests are impressed.
“The food, I mean the way that these brothers prepare this stuff, I mean, this is good! This is good food,” said Cafe Momentum guest Marquis Hawkins.
Good food from guys trying to make a difference in their lives.
“The fact that I was locked up, helped me find this place and turned things around for me,” said Medina.
“Now I’m really grateful and I’m trying to make [a] change so I can show the people that have been helping me that I really want to do something good with my life,” said Liticker.
Cafe Momentum is located at 1510 Pacific Avenue at Akard in Dallas. It is open Thursday-Saturday from 5:30 p.m.-11 p.m.
Click on this sentence to learn more about the restaurant. Or call 214-303-1234.