Café Momentum: Deliciously making a difference

Wright Connatser counsels the organization and founder Chad Houser on expansion strategies

December 3, 2020

When the front window of Café Momentum was broken during a social injustice protest in June, Chad Houser didn’t focus on the mess, the expense, or the inconvenience. He thought about the anger and frustration that caused someone to act in that way. He thought about the majority of the young people in Café Momentum’s internship program, who are Black, and the despair and hopelessness they were feeling from the continued police brutality toward Black people.

Then he got to work. He started a lunch-and-learn series to build education and conversation among his staff and interns about the history of Black people in America and in Dallas. He also created dialogue among the staff and interns regarding what they wanted to come of the protests and how they were feeling. Those sentiments were written all over the plywood that covered the empty window transforming it into a public statement piece.

Café Momentum has a history of success intervening in the lives of youth involved in the juvenile justice system. It is a restaurant and culinary training facility that provides them with education, life skills, and employment skills in a positive environment. Chad is the founder, chef, and guiding spirit.

He also has had a long association with Bob Wright and Robin Minick of Wright Connatser. Both attorneys were early believers in the mission and Chad’s ability to make it happen, as both are passionate advocates for social innovation and entrepreneurism, and they have provided Chad with guidance, counsel, and legal assistance.

Here’s a testament about their help from Chad:

“We wouldn’t be where we are as an organization and I wouldn’t be where I am as an individual if it weren’t for the support, guidance, love, and faith of Bob and Robin. They deserve a lot of gratitude from me.”

Robin got to know Chad through the pop-up dinners he started in 2011 around the Dallas area to socialize the idea of intervening in the lives of at-risk kids, which usually isn’t a dinner table topic. The pop-ups were a way to raise the seed money needed to launch the program.

Another way that Chad was building momentum for his concept was participating in bigBANG!, the social innovation event co-sponsored by Social Venture Partners Dallas, Federal Reserve of Dallas, and United Way of Metropolitan Dallas. That’s where he met Bob, who founded Social Venture Partners and has long held leadership positions with United Way.

Fast forward several years and Café Momentum has earned acclaim for having more than 85 percent of its participants not return to jail after their 12-month internships. So when the organization looked to expand its program to other cities, Chad and the board knew they needed outside counsel. They turned to Bob and Robin, not only because of their long-time support but also for their expertise in nurturing social innovation and working with nonprofits.

Scaling a program such as this would have many inherent challenges. Chad knew that the actual implementation would have to differ, as other cities have different dining tastes and customs than Dallas, as well as different views on helping kids who have had brushes with the law.

Step One: Determine the legal organization structure for expansion. A leading option was to form a public benefit corporate with a twofold mission of helping juvenile offenders and sending a return to shareholders. The PBC designation is fairly new to Texas, having been approved by the legislature in 2017. (Check out Robin’s blog post about public benefit corporations here.)

However, after considering the organization’s mission, funding sources, and concerns for protecting the brand, as well as researching how similar groups around the country are organized, Bob and Robin recommended that the new entity be a nonprofit organization.

How a nonprofit group or a social enterprise organizes legally has many ramifications for its fund-raising, operations, and mission fulfillment, Bob said. “We wanted to make sure that Café Momentum could expand its mission with the flexibility to adapt to the customs and tastes of new cities, while protecting the brand name.”

The pandemic has, of course, affected Café Momentum’s expansion plans, but stay tuned for more news about how eating and drinking can help even more at-risk kids.

Editor’s note: Café Momentum reopened its restaurant earlier this fall. The food truck Ruthie’s Fueled by Café Momentum routinely serves at Klyde Warren Park and other locations.

Chad Houser, center, with Café Momentum interns