Restaurant gives opportunities to teens who served time in juvenile detention

Posted at 8:04 PM, Aug 30, 2021

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A restaurant is serving more than food. Cafe Momentum gives opportunities who teens who served time in juvenile detention.

Cafe Momentum began in Dallas, Texas, in 2015 after top chef Chad Houser decided to quit his top chef job and open a restaurant with a new mission.

“The most important thing that happens with Cafe Momentum is it brings the community to the table and addresses the issue head-on,” said Houser. “We are a 12-month paid post-release internship program for young men and young ladies exiting... juvenile detention facilities, and as the young people are working their way through every station in the restaurant learning life skills and social skills, what their strengths are being a part of a team.”

The restaurant also has other resources available to the interns.

“We also have a community services center which houses the case management team, the staff psychologist, the education manager, and the career services coordinator, that are working to holistically build an ecosystem of support around the young people that address all of the issues and barriers that have previously happened in detention,” explained Houser.

Nashville, Tennessee is set to get a Cafe Momentum in 2022. Houser said the organization made a stop in Nashville in 2019 for the NFL Draft.

"That's afforded us the opportunity to begin to meet individuals and organizations and amazing folks that are doing work with young men and women, currently in the Nashville system," he said.

Houser said that pop-up opened the door for a relationship with Judge Shelia Callaway, the Davidson County Juvenile Court Judge, and other partners to open its second location

Cafe Momentum CEO and Executive Chef Chad Houser (left), Cafe Momentum Nashville Executive Director Rokeisha Bryant (center), and Cafe Momentum Ambassador and former Intern Cameron Carver (right) prepare to train a group of kids exiting the Davidson County Juvenile Detention Center on August 24, 2021.

"It's an opportunity to give young people the skills that could create new pathways for them in a very meaningful way," explained Cafe Momentum Nashville Executive Director Rokeisha Bryant. "It's based on the things that a lot of our stakeholders are already doing but we're not being as collaborative as we could be sometimes and so I think that when you eat and drink, and you change lives, I mean, it automatically happens organically. And so, obviously, I think this is going to be a great opportunity for Nashville."

As of Aug. 26, there were about 40 kids in juvenile detention and about 65 on supervised probation in Davidson County, both lower than normal following an unusually low year in 2020 due to the pandemic.

"It's always my goal for young people to know that we care, that we're here to build relationships with them and actually hear and have action, not just words. And so whoever's out there that needs these services, we're here, we care," said Bryant. "We've always been here, we've always cared, but we're going to come together and really just build momentum together."

Ahead of the restaurant build, Bryant said the organization needs help from the Nashville community. So far, the Stand Together Foundation has donated $1.9 million to the Momentum Advisory Collective to support expansion to other cities, but more funding is still needed.

"You can go on our website, and there's an option to join our ‘Momentum Society.’ There's three different levels of participation, you could text to give, you could just follow us on social media," Bryant continued, "You could just give us a call and start a conversation... it's all about having a conversation and that's what I'm looking to do."

Cameron Carver went through the Cafe Momentum program and is now an ambassador for the nonprofit.

"Around 2019, I was just getting out of being incarcerated, and I was looking for any type of job that would be able to provide me with stability at my age because I was 15 years old and already had a bad record so I couldn't necessarily find any way and Cafe Momentum came in and showed me the restaurant business," Carver explained.

He said the program changed his life and he hopes with the restaurant opening in his hometown and staying on with the program as a 18-year-old ambassador, more kids will have the chance to get their lives back on the right track.

"Even just showing me one person to meet [and] I can have an occupation. Each day to show up to and care about and work towards being better," said Carver, "Since I've been working with Cafe Momentum I want to start working with juveniles now I've found a genuine care for that so definitely want to be able to change their minds being as young as I am and I've accomplished a lot of things. I think I can get in their ears and really change some mindsets."

Cafe Momentum Nashville plans to open new restaurant in 2022 in Nashville employing kids exiting the Davidson County Juvenile Detention Center.