“CAFE MOMENTUM TAKES KIDS OUT OF JAIL AND TEACHES THEM TO PLAY WITH KNIVES AND FIRE.”
— CHAD HOUSER
El Centro College Food and Hospitality Institute Alumnus
Executive Director and Chef, Café Momentum
It’s a tall order: give troubled adolescents the opportunity to redirect their lives by learning marketable job skills in the restaurant business. But Chad Houser does just that with Café Momentum, a nonprofit training restaurant that he co-founded with fellow El Centro culinary alumnus Janice Provost.
A chef for 16 years, Chad sold his partnership share of Parigi restaurant, where Janice is owner and executive chef, to devote his time and talents exclusively to this innovative program that has no small goal. The café’s motto says it all: “Eat. Drink. Change Lives.”
“Café Momentum teaches critical skills that allow youth to apply what they have been taught in pre-release programs in a safe, real-world environment of nurturing accountability,” states the restaurant’s mission statement on its website. “We provide a transformative experience in which (they) rotate through every aspect of the restaurant from waiting tables to washing dishes, while working side-by-side with established chefs. They learn life and job skills, resulting in confident individuals who are equipped for future success.”
Says Chad of the time in which his professional focus shifted, “I taught eight young men in juvenile detention to make ice cream for a competition at the Dallas Farmers Market. I knew immediately that I wanted to continue to work with these kiddos. I continued to learn more about what their needs were and decided that a restaurant that they ran would be the best way to truly help.
“The restaurant itself focuses on employment, life and social skill training. We also have a case management staff that focuses on creating an ecosystem around the restaurant that focuses on all of the tools and resources they have had no access to without our guidance.”
Chad is also still a chef, and his professional contributions haven’t gone unnoticed in the food and hospitality industry. He was tapped out in Dallas Business Journal’s 2016 “40 Under 40,” honoring North Texas professionals impacting their community through service, and as one of the U.S. Junior Chamber’s (Jaycee) 2015 Ten Outstanding Young Americans.
He’s been named to the “Top 50 Under 40” by the Social Enterprise Alliance, an “Urban Innovator to Watch” by the New Cities Foundation, one of “30 Most Interesting People in the Metro Area” by the Dallas Observer, and one of Good Magazine’s “Good 100” individuals at the cutting edge of creative impact across the globe. Awards include the 2011 Edible Dallas/Fort Worth “Local Hero – Chef” award, and multiple nominations from D Magazine for “Best Up-And-Coming Chef” (2010) and “Best Chef” (2011 and 2012).
But Chad is pretty grounded on his roots, both in the kitchen and in the community. “El Centro provided me with a solid foundation of skills and lessons,” he says, “about not only how the restaurant industry works, but also its value to our society.”