Thursday, December 5, 2013

Meditations on the Season

“He knew only that the child was his warrant. He said:  If he is not the word of God, God never spoke”

Cormac McCarthy, The Road

My friend Stacy Caldwell speaks the collision of the “suits” and the “jeans” that happens at Big Bang and other Dallas Social Venture Partner events.  What’s that about?

Particle accelerators, such as the Large Hadron Collider that has been in the news recently, are also sometimes called atom smashers.  They accelerate subatomic particles to incomprehensible speed, create a collision that “shatters” the particle and then unbelievably brilliant scientists and engineers observe, measure, and record the constituent matter of the universe and figure out what is going on. 

In the Christmas story, God comes to earth in the baby Jesus, the personification of perfection and absolute innocence, both fully human and fully divine.  The Wise Men and others who gather in the manger scene are amazed, filled with wonder and awe.  They respond to the reality of the pure essence of god in this child.  In my wife’s faith background, the Gopis respond to the pure joy and playfulness of the avatar of god, Krishna.

It is not only in perfection, is it, that we see the face of God?  Do we not see it in many other forms?  Do we not see it in everything that is true?  Do we not see the constituent matter of humankind, recognize it in others, recall it in ourselves, and wonder?  Are not the faces of our young men, their stories, their tragedies, hopes, fears, triumphs and injustices speaking to us of ourselves and our circumstances, triumphs, failures, hopes, pains, stories and injustices, both received and given?  And in the face of truth, with the gift of sight, by grasping the measure of things, can we not resolve to move in the direction of generosity, grace, and forgiveness? 

If our young men are not the word of God, God never spoke, never incarnated, never took root, never blossomed, never fruited, never died, never rose, never ascended and never reigns. 

What is my evidence?  You are.  You, the supporters of Café Momentum respond, consistently and beautifully to the collisions you have with our young men and each other.  You prove that God speaks.

May the wonder and hopes of the holiday season, the recollection of all things true and beautiful, and the joy of family, friendships and community be with you. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Innovation and Impact

This week I enjoyed being part of a discussion on Innovation and Impact.  The speaker made an excellent point that social innovation has flourished in the last 20 years and that most of what is needed now is to drive what we have already learned throughout our society to have impact.  In other words, implement the models that work!

Is that where we are with Cafe Momentum?  No!  We have a lot of work to do to execute and refine our model, validate our theory of change, grow our community and define our innovation.  Our aspirations are high.  Innovation has become an overused word, so we need to be clear on what it means to us.  When we are talking about innovation we look to the Rockefeller Foundation's definition to inspire us to shoot high.
At the Rockefeller Foundation, we define
innovation as a break from previous practice,
occurring when different points of view or
existing practices are framed, imagined, or
combined in new ways. Innovation succeeds
when it creates new pathways for solving
entrenched social problems, resulting in
lasting transformation of the systems that
most affect vulnerable populations and leave
stronger social relationships in their wake.
There we go.  That is what we are shooting for.  But you'll be pleased to know that even as we work with our various strategic partners to innovate, we are also thinking about how we can move quickly to impact.  Because while we know that every single guy we help counts and is worth all our effort, we are not satisfied to leave all the other young men and women behind.  So while we work, build, promote, convene, dine, celebrate, and give thanks, we are striving from day one to clear the pathway on this particular entrenched social problem.

And we are glad you are coming along with us.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Sunday Night's Momentum at Cafe Momentum

Sunday night we talked a lot about mentoring, and how Cafe Momentum plays a unique role in mentoring by exposing our young men to nearly 100 mentors on a nightly basis in the form of you all, our guests and supporters.

There was a story that developed with one of the young men that exemplified that very role, the story of Cameron.  Sunday night was Cameron's first Cafe Momentum dinner.  As the first course began to roll out from the kitchen, Cameron turned to me and said, "Sir, I'm embarrassed to be here."  I inquired as to why and he told me how he got in trouble and how he knew that the dinner was a reminder that he had done something bad.  We talked about how 65 people paid $100 (in 8 seconds no less) to be at that dinner. I told him that they did so because they believed in who he is and what he will be, not what he had done.

Cameron began to nervously serve food and was visibly embarrassed when he dropped a fork while clearing a table.  At one point, he confided the same anxieties to a Cafe Momentum volunteer, the incredible Aaron Collins.  Aaron reiterated the same message regarding the special environment that is Cafe Momentum.  Slowly Cameron began to grow comfortable and started working with purpose rather then nervousness.  I'm sure it didn't hurt that Julie Quaid was engaging him in conversation and compliments every time he found himself serving her table. (THANK YOU, JULIE!)

Halfway through the dinner, Cameron switched form server to kitchen assistant.  Chef Tiffany Derry immediately took him under her wing and set him up working on the applauded banana pudding.  

As the evening came to an end, Cameron said two things that drive home the power of Momentum...

First, as the young men were being enthusiastically introduced by Chef Derry, Cameron spoke up in front of the entire room.  Cameron told us all how happy he was to be there and then said, "When we were driving over here we were all talking about what to expect.  I just wanted to greet each of you, thank you for being here, and introduce myself with my first and last name."  He then began to walk around the dining room, shaking guests hands and thanking them all for being there.

As guests began to depart and the guys started bussing the tables, Cameron walked over to Aaron and gave him a hug.  He then said, "I just want to thank you for not thinking that I am just another young dumb black criminal."

As the organizers and spokespeople for Cafe Momentum, we are often asked what our secret is.  What makes the pop-up dinners so special?  How do we sell them out so fast?  How do we create success?

The answer is simple.  In the matter of one evening, 65 people filled a room with an energy of hope and inspiration, and because of that energy Cameron was transformed from a teen embarrassed by his past into a young man embracing the hope of his future.

Cafe Momentum is an idea that something as simple as a meal can address some of our community's most pressing problems.  It is an idea that we can "Eat. Drink. Change Lives."

Thank you all for your momentum!


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Pop-Up Popularity

We have come a long way from our first pop-up dinner.  Going into that first dinner, we had no idea what to expect.  We were all strategizing a plan to call in favors, beg and even blackmail (if needed) people into buying tickets.  I remember vividly the groveling phone call I was prepared to give my mom to convince her that it was within her godly rights and (son's) best interest to guilt all of the ladies in her bible study class into buying a ticket.  Thankfully, she didn't have to.  Our first pop-up, with two social media posts as its grand marketing plan, sold out in 24 hours.  Actually, it oversold before we could turn the Paypal off.

Over the course of the next 17 dinners, we have slashed that time down to a whopping TWENTY SECONDS!  Most importantly, 97 young men have felt the love and encouragement that you all have given with your ardent support.  I will never EVER be able to thank you in words, but know this - before every dinner, we conduct a pre-shift meeting with the eight very nervous young men.  Part of my duty is to explain to them about the excitement of working at Cafe Momentum.  Each time, I tell them how many guests are coming and how quickly the dinner sold out.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the looks on their faces are priceless.  You see, for these young men those stats emphasize YOUR support and actuate a feeling they have never felt before - PRIDE.   For most of them, working at a pop-up dinner is the first time in their lives that they have ever had the opportunity to be a part of something so special.  

If you haven't had the opportunity to experience a pop-up dinner yet, I am sincerely sorry.  Please know that we are working feverishly to get the permanent restaurant open so that we may have the privilege of having you join us every night.  In the meantime, please continue to get on-line each month, and keep trying to purchase tickets because its that very support that starts the momentum... and the smiles.

NOW, over the course of 18 dinners some of you have dropped a few hints as to your secret strategies used to score tickets each month. Tsk tsk.  You should know that I can't keep secrets...

Hint #1 (The Refresh Method) - If tickets go on sale at 12:00, then be on the Eventbrite page at 11:57 and start hitting the refresh button repeatedly until noon.  At worst, you have done three minutes worth of finger exercises, and have earned a much deserved cookie break.

Hint #2 (The Buddy System) - Find a friend that wants to go too and strike a deal.  You call one another at 11:56.  Follow hint #1.  Spend the next four minutes repeatedly asking each, "Did you get in?" "No" "You" "No" until one of you gets in and BOOM, you order a ticket for each of you.

Hint #3 (Wait List) - While not the most sure fire method, this is flu (and every other virus) season.  February's dinner had 8 seats open up because of last minute cancellations due to illness.  SO sign up for the wait list, and then wish illness on those that got tickets already.  (not really, kinda)

I can't 100% guarantee that following these three hints will lead to a pop-up ticket, but it will earn you a cookie, a brief chat with a good friend, and pride for eight young men.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Pop-Up Dinner: March 10, 2013

Tickets on Sale Soon for March 10 Pop-Up Dinner With FT33’s Matt McCallister

We are pleased to announce that the guest chef for Cafe Momentum's 19th Pop-Up Dinner is Matt McCallister. The pop-up dinner takes place March 10, 2013 at 6 pm, at FT33; located at 1617 Hi Line Drive. Seats for the $100 four-course dinner can be reserved at

About Graham Dodds
      FT33 is Chef Matt McCallister’s first solo venture, opened on October 13, 2012 in
Dallas and serving “seasoninspired modern cuisine.” He showcases the highestquality
products, treats them with respect, and strives for innovation. “I don’t print my menu
until I know which ingredients are best that day,” he explains. “That should be the
natural progression, rather than do the reverse, creating a dish and forcing whatever
ingredients are available into it.” McCallister also has a penchant for creating
unorthodox pairings of ingredients. “I always prepare a few dishes that are risky, which
challenge both me and my customers in the best way possible,” he says.
Before becoming a thoughtfully progressive culinarian in the Dallas dining
scene, McCallister was torn between the visual and culinary arts. He ultimately chose
cooking as a career, even after attending the Metropolitan Arts Institute in Phoenix for
fine arts in 2000. “Art was a passion that always competed with food, but cooking gives
me an opportunity to blend the two,” says the Scottsdale, AZ, native, whose artistic
sensibilities were influenced by his designer mother and scientific curiosity can be
attributed to his research engineer father.
       In 2006, McCallister applied for a job at Stephan Pyles Restaurant in Dallas. With
no formal training—“I didn’t even know how to cook a beurre blanc,” he admits—the
aspiring chef began working the garde manger station at the renowned temple of fine
Southwestern cuisine. He rapidly ascended the kitchen hierarchy, becoming sous chef in
just over a year and executive chef within three years. Pyles, who was thoroughly
impressed with McCallister’s “raw and natural ability,” exposed his protégé to a wide
variety of cuisines beyond Southwestern, and McCallister had the opportunity to work
in revered kitchens across the country as a result: José André’s minibar in Washington,
D.C.; Mark Vetri’s eponymous restaurant in Philadelphia; Sean Brock’s McCrady’s in
Charleston, SC; Grant Achatz’s Alinea in Chicago; and Daniel Boulud’s Daniel in New
York. Upon returning to Dallas in 2011, McCallister worked with two design friends to
open Campo Modern Country Bistro in Dallas, for which he consulted on the menu of
rustically elegant nosetotail cuisine and inspired housemade salumi and charcuterie.
Extending the reach of his food philosophy, the chef and his wife founded Chefs for Farmers 
a grassroots organization supporting local farmers by introducing their
products to chefs, and vice versa. He is also a member of Foodways Texas and Southern
Foodways Alliance, and he actively participates in raising funds for Meals on Wheels.
McCallister earned a Mastering Wine Certificate from the Culinary Institute of America
in 2011.
        When he’s not in the kitchen, the 31yearold chef/restaurateur spends most of
his time with wife, Iris, and their young daughter, Ella, who is his constant companion
at the farmers’ market. He can also occasionally be found foraging for various wild
herbs and vegetables in and around Dallas.

Pop-Up Dinner: February 17, 2013

This Month's Pop-up Dinner With Salum’s Abraham Salum on February 17, 2013

Cafe Momentum is pleased to announce our next guest chef: Abraham Salum. The pop-up dinner takes place February 17 at 6 pm, at Salum; located at 4152 Cole Ave #103, Dallas, TX 75204. The menu for this Sunday's dinner follows:

Passed Hors d’oeuvre:
Edamame and Mint Hummus, Crispy Wontons
Asparagus Prosciutto Bruschetta with Parmesan Vinaigrette
Beef Tongue Sope, Chile de Arbol Salsa, Avocado and Queso Fresco

First Course:
Baby Octopus, Bay Scallop and Shrimp Salad
Bergamot Orange Vinaigrette
Spiced Crostini

Second Course:
Roasted Pumpkin Bisque
Goat Cheese and Chicharron Prensado Fritter
Chili Pumpkin Seeds and Crema 

Third Course:
Za'atar Crusted Lambs Neck
Caramelized Onion, Raisin and Almond Borek
Cucumber, Radish and Mint Salad

Chocolate Tart, Banana Cream
Peanut, Bacon Brittle

About Abraham Salum:
Chef Salum is a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont; he expanded his skills in kitchens in France, Belgium, Mexico, and the United States. Realizing his dream by opening Salum in 2005, he has proven to be a legitimate fixture in the competitive Dallas restaurant market. Salum is also a sought-after catering resource for private parties in the Dallas area, and is a popular choice for celebrations and functions, including parties for the Dallas Opera. Chef Salum has made frequent appearances on the local morning show Good Morning Texas, and Salum is a featured “D Best” restaurant in the prestigious local D Magazine. Chef Salum was also invited to be a Celebrity chef for Super Bowl XLV at the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX. Dedicated to charity and community, Chef Salum is actively involved in events benefitting March of Dimes, The American Heart Association, AIDS Resources Center, and Lone Star Ride. Other contributions include the Crystal Charity Ball, Toast of Life and the DIFFA Style Council.