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Why I Nominated Chad Houser for the GOOD 100

Illustration by Lauren Tamaki   I met Chad Houser at a small event during Design Week in Dallas, Texas, where we were both speaking....

Illustration by Lauren Tamaki

I met Chad Houser at a small event during Design Week in Dallas, Texas, where we were both speaking. I’m glad I didn’t have to follow him.

It’s rare that someone can simply talk about what they’re up to and have it blow everyone away, on every level. Emotionally and intellectually, I walked away in awe. I’m pretty sure people cried.

Chad spoke with a quiet strength and intensity that I’ve noticed in chefs who fight the colossal battle that is regularly running a professional kitchen. He shared the story of managing Parigi, one of the darlings of the Dallas food scene, where he held the post of co-chef. But he seemed even more excited to talk about how much he cared about his local community. He had started mentoring at a culinary program inside a local juvenile detention center and witnessed impressive results: The discipline and collaboration required for a kitchen to function was captivating to these kids and gave them skills that would prove valuable once they re-entered the outside world. This planted the seed in Chad for a bigger idea.

In 2011, he launched the first Café Momentum Pop-up Dinner. The idea was to take some kids who’d recently been released from the detention center and train them to fully staff an event—to cook everything, plate everything, and serve everything, all with first-class quality and service. Café Momentum put the $100 tickets on sale and was prepared to lean on friends and call in favors to sell the seats. The event sold out in minutes.

Since then, these pop-up dinners have gone on every month, and Chad has taken the bold leap to leave his respected post and sell his ownership stake in Parigi to run this organization full time.

Today, as Café Momentum looks to build a brick-and-mortar location, it can look back proudly at the countless dinners that have been served and the many young men who have been through the program, men for whom Chad has served as mentor and, in some cases, even family. It’s amazing to see the power of this program—to see how he’s focused as much on teaching the kids as putting on an amazing experience for the guests, and that he considers the reduction in the recidivism rate of his workers to be as important as the food they put out.

As someone interested deeply in the intersection of creativity with social impact, it inspires me to see Chad and Café Momentum out there setting a standard for both.

Casey Caplowe is the co-founder and creative director of GOOD.

Gap has teamed up with GOOD to celebrate the GOOD 100, our annual round-up of individuals at the cutting-edge of creative impact. Gap + GOOD are challenging you to join in. We all have something to offer. #letsdomore

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