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Cafe Momentum: Eat, Drink and Change Lives 29

Guest Blogger Gail Sachson owns ASK ME ABOUT ART, offering lectures, tours and program planning. She  will lead a tour of the DALLAS ART FAIR for SMU.

cafe momentum plates

A wall of plates with messages from the Cafe Momentum interns. Photo: Gail Sachson

You will leave the much heralded downtown restaurant CAFE MOMENTUM with a full belly, a warm heart …and maybe a few emotional tears. Opened only a few weeks, the restaurant , founded by the Executive Director, CHAD HOUSER, former chef and  part owner of Parigi, has become the hottest dinner ticket in town. The Smoked Fried Chicken may be a lure, but the real enticement to dine at Cafe Momentum is to support it as the non-profit project it is. Through Cafe Momentum, Houser is offering a rare opportunity to teenage boys who  seem to be abandoned by society , who have weak or no support systems and who have served detention at the Dallas County Youth Village for non-violent crimes to grow and be nourished in a protective, yet demanding environment. As  food service Interns ,over a twelve month period, they will learn and be paid while they practice all aspects of restaurant service and perhaps discover a career. If not a career, at least they will discover comradeship within a caring environment.

cafe momentum tablesThe restaurant is open Thursday through Saturday evenings for dinner, before which the boys sit down to eat together. The silverware, plates and glasses are all donated. The tableware may be mismatched, but the non-profit leadership is  perfectly matched. A dedicated, well-seasoned and well-known staff is headed by Kenneth Pyron, Director of Training and Operations. Pyron gives lots of hugs, but he also holds the boys to  very high standards. The young men , each dressed in  a crisp black and white checkered shirt,  learn to respect authority, commit to a work schedule and to support each other as family.

Expectations are clear. Standards are high, but the restaurant family provides a safety-net. There are classes in anger management, budgeting, parenting (some of the young men are fathers), restaurant management , food preparation and more. All provided in an on-site classroom, enabling the boys to navigate the real world, as well as the food industry.Each of the more than  40 interns has requested and been selected for the program, so they appreciate and are grateful for the opportunity. My 19-year-old server, Samuel, told me that his relationship with Houser  over 7 months has changed his life. Some are eager to share their stories. Others are more reticent. Since the positions are rotated, your favorite server may be behind the stove or in the pastry kitchen on your next visit. (You must try the Fried Apple Pie with Cheddar Ice Cream).

Having probably subsisted mostly on fast food and pizza, these young men are now serving, dining on and reeling off the ingredients of complex dishes such as  Smoked Carrot Pappardelle, Mocha Panna Cotta and Octopus Tiradito. The Octopus appetizer is the signature dish and can be offered on one of the very special 40+ plates which line the wall as the major eye-catching , soul-stirring art installation. Created by popular Dallas artist  SHANE PENNINGTON, who has long been an advocate for the homeless and less fortunate, his “I Am Thankful Plate Project”, allows the boys to express their gratitude in their own words and in their own handwriting. Having written why they are thankful on unfired plates, Pennington then partnered with the Creative Art Center to have  the plates  fired.  They wrote: ” I am thankful for Hope, Laughter and Pie”; “I am thankful for being alive”; “I am thankful for people who make me laugh.”  What are YOU thankful for? Besides Chad Houser!