A new restaurant is coming to Denver that will serve the community in more ways than one. Café Momentum is an award-winning nonprofit restaurant that employs youth exiting the juvenile justice system. Thanks in part to a one-million-dollar grant from The Denver Broncos Foundation, the restaurant will begin dishing out food and hope in the Mile High City next year.
Of the more than 400 restaurants in Denver, none are quite like Café Momentum. Those whipping up the food, setting tables, and serving guests are all teenagers with troubled pasts. Teens like Tristyn Williams, who was 15 years old when she was released from a juvenile detention center in Dallas in 2019.
"I had just come out of the juvenile system for a second time, and I was actually three months pregnant," she told CBS News Colorado.
Williams said she had little hope for her future until she learned about Café Momentum.
"I was so broken. I was scared," she said. "As a teen mom, and a young Black woman at that, it was already so much against me, and it was honestly a last-grab effort at trying to be able to get back on track."
Started by a chef in Dallas, Café Momentum provides a 12-month paid internship for local teens exiting juvenile facilities, hiring young men and women ages 15 to 19. Each intern experiences all aspects of a restaurant, including cooking, serving, hosting and even management.
"It's really this belief that young people deserve to dream, especially those that are coming out of the juvenile justice system," said Steph Frances, Momentum's national director of program and outcomes. "Our country and a lot of our systems are really not set up to support them well. So, generally, what happens in over 50% of cases, young people go back into the juvenile justice system, which is just devastating."
Since launching eight years ago, Frances said Momentum has seen more than 1,000 teenagers graduate from the program. Better yet, they don't go back into the system.
"We've had zero youths go back into this cycle of incarceration," she said.
Those are the results she wants to see continue when Café Momentum opens in Denver.
"Colorado ranks in the top third in number of youth incarcerations in the country," Frances explained. "And we have racial disparities. If you're a person of color, you're five to six times more likely to be incarcerated as a young person here, so there's absolutely a need."
Along with the paid internship, Momentum also provides numerous resources, Frances said, from 24/7 case management to free mental health therapy, even parenting classes. Interns are also required to be enrolled in school if they haven't graduated from high school yet. All of which were incredibly helpful for Williams.
"Most of the women in my family didn't finish high school," she said. "I graduated when I was 16 because of Café Momentum. I started making all these small accomplishments one by one and it just made me realize how much I had given up on myself. Going to Café Momentum and being around all these people that just automatically believed in me, filling me with all of this love and support, it helped me connect with my willingness to show my potential and grow that and act on it."
Now a 20-year-old mother of two, Williams is pursuing culinary school with hopes of opening her own catering business one day. A dream she didn't know was possible, she said, until she found a place that doesn't care about mistakes and wants to feed the future.
"Thinking about how my life could've gone if I wouldn't have found Café Momentum, it honestly breaks my heart," she said fighting back tears. "I almost burst into tears because I wouldn't have been able to provide for my son, and now my daughter."
It's not known yet where Café Momentum will be in Denver, but the goal is to open in 2024. The program could use more partners as well as donations. To learn more about Momentum and how to get involved, visit https://www.momentumadvisory.co/.
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