Opening of the restaurant and culinary training center for young people at Café Momentum Centre-ville
Tristyn Williams’ world was at a standstill until she found out Momentum Coffee.
At 15, the Texas resident was pregnant and in prison. Upon her release from juvenile detention, she began a frantic job search. Williams not only got a job, but she also gained a strong sense of purpose at a popular Dallas restaurant that doubles as a nonprofit for at-risk youth.
Founded in 2015 by Executive Chef Chad Houser, Café Momentum has helped over 1,000 youth involved in justice through its 12-month paid internship program. At the Culinary Training Center, participants ages 15 to 19 identified as potential Café Momentum candidates by the county’s juvenile probation program learn all aspects of the business, as well as social and life skills.
Williams, now 18, works at another fine dining restaurant and serves as an ambassador for the Momentum Advisory Collectivewho oversees expansion efforts across the country.
This year, with combined support of $650,000 from Downtown Pittsburgh Partnership and the Richard King Mellon Foundation, the organization will open a location near the Market Square. The goal is to literally bring community members to the table to confront societal issues and change mindsets.
Cafe Momentum Pittsburgh moves into the former Wolfie’s Pub at 274 Forbes Ave. A community service center will occupy the nearby former Pizzuvio, providing interns with a safe and stable place to go when not working.
The 3,900 square foot space will include a lounge area, wellness center and closet stocked with free toiletries, childcare items, feminine hygiene products, snacks and clothing.
The center will have a case management team to address issues such as housing instability, health care, food insecurity and career exploration. The site will also offer an educational component so teens can earn their GED.
The 4,000 square foot restaurant will be a chef-led, farm-focused American kitchen with a seasonal menu. An open kitchen will allow guests to watch their meals being prepared while cooks watch customers enjoy the fruits of their labor.
The flagship location, which works with 150 teenagers a year, is consistently featured as one of Dallas’ top restaurants. Houser thinks adding Pittsburgh will generate the same kind of buzz.
“Like we do in Dallas, Pittsburgh, we’ll make sure to provide the right educational materials for customers so they really understand what’s going on in the restaurant,” Houser says. “When you’re a hot ticket in town, people see it on Yelp and OpenTable with no idea of the purpose or mission behind the restaurant.”
Houser hosted pop-up dinners in Pittsburgh to develop partnerships with judges from the Allegheny County Juvenile Court system and with representatives from local groups such as Community Kitchen Pittsburgh and Gwen’s daughters. Its objective is to create a climate of trust with juvenile delinquents.
Over the next few months, Café Momentum will hold an orientation session for the first group of 150 young people.
A typical training day begins at the community service center where participants eat breakfast and relax. They attend classes until 1 p.m., when they make their way to the restaurant, rotating through different stations, from the front to the back of the house. At 3 p.m., they have a meal together and talk about the news. Then it’s time to feed the hungry customers.
“Something as simple as a wonderful meal can change the lives of the most vulnerable young people in a community,” says Houser. “This is a unique opportunity to engage two populations that may never have crossed paths.”
Learn a hard lesson
In 2007, the booming chef had just purchased an upscale restaurant in Dallas when the economy crashed. Despite the recession, Houser was able to grow the business by 40% and was named one of the top rising chefs in town.
After a successful first year, Houser was asked to teach young men at a juvenile detention center how to make ice cream. Any preconceived notions he had of teenagers breaking the law melted away as soon as he encountered them.
“I had stereotyped them before I even met them and realized I was wrong,” Houser admits. “I thought I was a better person. I faced reality face to face and that led to a feeling of shame and then a feeling of humility. I was teaching them how to make ice cream, but , more importantly, I was listening.
The chef has volunteered at juvenile facilities in Dallas to better understand the people who occupy them and find a way to use his cooking skills to help stop the cycle of crime and poverty.
“They didn’t just need a job — it’s like putting a band-aid over a waterfall,” Houser says. “They needed a cohesive and stable environment to move from a life of survival to a life of prosperity. For me, Café Momentum should be a supportive ecosystem to solve all problems and obstacles. We need to get to the root of their problems if we are to be able to provide space for them to thrive.
In 2013, Houser moved away from his trendy restaurant to focus fully on Café Momentum.
At first, the idea was met with great skepticism. Some reviewers even told Houser that his employees would likely use their kitchen knives to stab themselves rather than cut vegetables. Punks, they said, wanted nothing more than a paycheck, not a career.
This marginalization did not sit well with Houser.
“How is a young person supposed to think their life has value when society keeps telling them it doesn’t? ” he says. “It’s one thing to tell kids you believe in them; it’s another to show them.
Beyond the culinary accolades, Café Momentum is bolstered by the success of its graduates. One of the participants was the first person in his family to graduate from high school. Another landed an internship at NASA.
In 2016, Demondric Pratt’s probation officer recommended Café Momentum to nudge him in the right direction.
While learning the ins and outs of the culinary world, Pratt learned valuable life skills he had never mastered before, such as how to talk to people, how to receive positive and negative feedback, and how to empathize. .
Today, the 21-year-old is a cook and cashier at Ruthie’s food truck powered by Café Momentum, the mobile unit of the organization. Her goal is to pursue a degree in Culinary Arts at College El Centro Campus in Dallas.
“To be completely honest, if I never got involved or never heard of Café Momentum, I would still be making bad decisions, I would still be in trouble,” says Pratt, who is also an ambassador for Momentum Advisory. Collective. “My advice to young people is to hold your head up high. Don’t think it’s the end of the world, because it’s not. There is someone there to help you. All you have to do is reach out. Don’t be ashamed to tell people what you’re going through and why you need help. The help is there. »