Cafe Momentum, a fine dining restaurant designed to help teens who have been part of the criminal justice system, is scheduled to open in downtown Pittsburgh in August. The restaurant was created in Dallas seven years ago by Chad Houser.”Over the last seven years we worked with over 1,000 youth,” Houser said.
Cafe Momentum trains teens, ages 15 to 19, to work in every aspect of the restaurant industry. Houser said he come up with the concept when he realized, for himself, that kids in the justice system often need a second chance.Houser said the realization came while he was volunteering to teach teenage boys, in a juvenile dentition facility, how to make ice cream for a competition.”The moment I met these 8 young men, I realized that I had stereotyped them before I ever met them and I was wrong,” Houser said. “I was incredibly ashamed of myself because I thought I was a better human being but when confronted with the reality literally face to face I had nowhere to go but admit I was wrong” That led me to spend the next hours not just teaching them to make ice cream but them teaching me their truth, who they were why they were. Two days later they were competing against college culinary students. One of them wins the whole competition, he’s so excited, tells me when he gets released from detention he’s gonna get a job at a restaurant and asked my professional chef’s opinion whether he should work at Wendy’s or Chili’s.”Houser said he knew that just getting hired would be difficult, for teens who had been in the justice system. That, he said, was the momentum behind the cafe, and the reason he is now expanding to Pittsburgh.”Our goal, our objective, our mission is to serve our young people that’s our intention, that’s what we’re all about,” Houser said. “
The goal is to provide value for our young people and above and beyond ourselves and I think that’s what really attracted us to Pittsburgh is that kind of integrity that the community engages in.””Just being able to be proud of myself is a big accomplishment for me,” Tristyn Williams said. Williams went through the paid internship in Dallas.”I have been involved in Cafe Momentum since summer 2019, I had just gotten out of a rehabilitation center for Dallas juveniles,” Williams said.Williams has since graduated from the program, but continues to work with Cafe Momentum and now plans to be a pastry chef. Homemade cinnamon rolls are her specialty. “It’s very important to be able to believe in myself and have people behind me that believe in me because I honestly would have never thought of pursuing a career in culinary at all because I’m like, ‘That something you do at home, that’s a chore,’” Williams said. But ever since I’ve been at Cafe, I’ve found it’s a bonding experience and it’s a way to put yourself into somebody else.”Houser said the Dallas location now has its own high school. He said 100% of their youths are either on track to graduate or already have and one-third are headed to college. Houser said he is hopeful Pittsburgh will benefit in the same way, that teens and the customers in Dallas have.”
Our restaurant in Dallas has been consistently ranked as one of the top restaurants in the city for the seven years we’ve been open and we’re intentional because it proves to the community and it also proves to the young people that they can and will rise to whatever level of expectation that is set for them as long as we’re providing the tools and resources and opportunity for them to do so,” Houser said. “One of the things we take a lot of pride in at Cafe Momentum is it’s very chef-driven but it’s also very seasonal and farm forward. So, while we’re not gonna replicate the menu in verbatim because we want to use ingredients from local farms in and around Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, one dish we will replicate because it the first dish anyone has asked us bout in Pittsburgh, which kinda makes me giggle, is — we will have our smoked fried chicken there. It’s our signature dish here in Dallas.”Houser said the reason it makes him laugh is that the cafe makes most of the food from scratch, but the chicken seems to be the top pick.”We make our own cheeses at Cafe Momentum, we break down whole animals and make our own charcuterie boards, we ferment pickles, age dry everything, everything is done in house, rolling out our own pastas, but the dish we’re known for even in Pittsburgh is our fried chicken, so we’re excited to bring it,” Houser said.Houser said he is also excited for the second chances he hopes the restaurant brings to Pittsburgh teens as it has for Williams.”Cafe Momentum is a great opportunity, well a great second chance for justice-involved youth and getting the community involved in that is something that’s very important,” Williams said.