Before 18 -year-old Dayton Swift was cooking at one of the most wonderful eateries in Dallas, “hes in” a juvenile detention facility.
Swift became homeless at the age of 15, and as a result, he started to commit felonies — a common pattern for people trying to get by the streets.
“I had to steal. I had to kick into people’s homes, ” Swift remembers. “I then got up to phases where I had to rob people.”
Sure enough, he wound up in adolescent detention along with a number of other teens who found themselves in the same cycle. However, thanks to chef Chad Houser and his eatery Cafe Momentum, Swift was given a chance to escape that cycle through a passion he didn’t even know he had.
Cafe Momentum is both a restaurant and culinary train facility for former juvenile offenders.
Houser, who now owns Momentum, was once co-owner of the popular Parigi Restaurant and winning a number of commendations when its own experience at a juvenile facility took him in an entirely new culinary direction.
He was there teaching the children how to induce ice cream for an upcoming ice cream competitor, and he immediately recognized incredible talent in one of them. Simultaneously, he realized that when the son was released, he’d be heading back to the same neighborhood that had led him to a life of crime.
Houser decided to pivot his successful cooking career toward an endeavor that would give juvenile offenders a shot at living a better life.
“I was betting my entire career on taking children out of jail and teaching’ em play games with knives and fire, ” Houser jokes.
The 12 -month internship program not only teaches former juvenile offenders how to work in a restaurant, it offers mentorship, job, and life-skill training. It also provides them with an encouraging surrounding while they’re readjusting to life outside a juvenile facility. For Swift, that’s one of the best aspects of Momentum.
“It’s a family. I feel like I have the worst day and I can come in here and be crying and like broken down to tears, and they can help me and lift me up, ” Swift says.
The restaurant began as a series of pop-up dinners in 2012 and finally put down brick-and-mortar roots in 2015. It’s been a hit with the food-obsessed Dallas clientele ever since.
Beyond making good food, the restaurant is offer stability for its students and keeping them from reoffending.
While a large percentage of juvenile offenders in Texas wind up in jail, Cafe Momentum’s reduced the rate for its interns to 15%. It just goes to show how life-changing the offer of a different route can be.
Obviously it’s made all the difference to Swift.
“I started realise, like, dang — I love this, ” Swift says. “Even though I get burns and grease marks from all the cooking, I merely love. I love it.”
Success narratives like Swift’s are why Houser believes Momentum’s mission could have a lasting effect on Dallas as a whole.
“We have children who aren’t just stabilization for themselves but for their entire household. That’s transgressing generational cycles, which becomes transformative for our community and our society.”
Learn more about Cafe Momentum’s work here :