DENVER — Anyone who attended this year's Taste of the Broncos presented by King Soopers would tell you that the event was a smashing success.
On the grass lawn just outside Empower Field at Mile High, players, fans and community members mingled under the warm glow of string lights. As the crowd danced along to lively funk and soul tunes, they were enveloped by the aromas of slow-cooked barbecue, sizzling spring rolls, cheesy nachos and much, much more.
The gourmet-style tailgate, which benefits Denver Broncos Charities and Food Bank of the Rockies, hosted more than 30 restaurant concepts that created unique dishes for attendees to sample. Dozens of Broncos players attended, taking time to chat and take pictures with members of the community, and some even ran booths — kicker Brandon McManus prepared and served his own dish, while defensive tackle D.J. Jones helped his dad, Big Dave, hand out his signature barbecue.
It was a joyful evening of food, music, family and community — but more importantly, it raised money for many different charitable causes.
Among the local Denver restaurants and chefs serving up a myriad of cuisines, one booth stood apart from the rest.
At first glance, Café Momentum looked to be another fine dining establishment. It offered artfully crafted tostadas topped with coffee-rubbed New York strip loin, cotija cheese, a pickled corn and red onion relish and micro cilantro. The delectable dish was bursting with flavor, but it was not just the premium ingredients that made this restaurant special.
In addition to being an upscale restaurant, Café Momentum is a nonprofit professional training program for youth who have been incarcerated or involved in the juvenile justice system. Pioneered in Dallas, the organization provides justice-impacted teens ages 15-19 with a paid internship at the restaurant, where they can develop skills in cooking, serving, hosting and many other areas.
While obtaining work experience, the interns also receive education and psychological support that helps them flourish and maximize their potential. Sarah Vazquez, Café Momentum's national marketing director, outlined the organization's mission while handing out tostadas to the attendees.
"We work with youth coming out of the juvenile justice system," Vazquez said. "We're based out of Dallas, and in addition to a fine dining restaurant, we are a 12-month program. We have a school [where] the kids can get their high school diploma; we have on-site case managers and on-staff psychologists to help, and we are expanding."
Vazquez was joined by JD, a former intern who worked his way up to become a restaurant associate. JD was involved in the juvenile justice system, but he turned his life around after getting the opportunity to work with Café Momentum.
JD helped prepare Café Momentum's dish for Taste of the Broncos by frying the tortillas, and he shared his story with the Broncos players and community members who stopped by their booth.
"I think every kid deserves this opportunity," JD said. "I began at Café Momentum at the age of 16 years old, [and] I graduated at 17. Before I got there, I wasn't surrounded by any great influences like I was when I got to Café Momentum. Café Momentum really helped just change my life and expand my vision on what I want in life, and also how I want to help other people. I knew so many kids growing up exactly how I grew up, and I know that they would love a place [like] Café Momentum to go and show you love [and] support. That's a place you can pick up some skills from and grow confident. It's a great restaurant, but it's not just a restaurant — it's a big family, and it's home to me. … I have so many that let me know that I can do anything I want to do, as long as I stay committed to it."
NFL Inspire Change and Players Coalition have supported the national expansion of Café Momentum, and the Broncos are the latest professional sports organization to feature the nonprofit. Vazquez and JD shared their appreciation for the Broncos' support, particularly the players that came up to talk to them and learn about their mission.
"It's really nice knowing that we're getting support from the players, and hopefully the players will help us get support from the community," JD said. "I think it's awesome, I think it's amazing. I love the fact that I'm out here with the Denver Broncos, being able to share the message."
One Broncos player that took a particular interest in Café Momentum was wide receiver Tim Patrick. Growing up with parents who experienced incarceration, Patrick has spent several years giving support to those who have been involved in the justice system. He regularly provides mentorship to youth at the Marvin W. Foote Youth Services Center in Centennial, which is just around the corner from the Broncos' training complex.
Patrick talked to JD and Vazquez for a long time at Taste of the Broncos, listening to JD share his experiences and learning more about the organization. He noted that he would like to work with Café Momentum in the future, as it could be a great resource for the kids he mentors.
"It's big," Patrick said. "I haven't seen [programs for justice-impacted youth] in the way they're doing it. There's obviously other organizations, but the way they're doing it in the restaurant business, and they're able to get their high school diploma while doing it, is something I've just never seen before. It is definitely eye-opening and something I'm definitely interested in."
Café Momentum is exploring options to expand nationally, and Patrick hopes that he convinced the organization to start a branch in Denver. With the life-changing opportunities it can provide to justice-involved youth, Patrick emphasized the impact they could have on children in Colorado's justice system.
"They said they have five spots they're looking into, and I think being involved with that, I could probably be the last 'OK' they needed to bring one here, so I'm going to try my best to get one out here for my kids," Patrick said.
Vazquez expressed gratitude for Patrick and the other players that showed interest in working with Café Momentum. As it looks to grow, the support of high-profile athletes could allow the organization to significantly expand its reach.
"It speaks to the community and to the players themselves to want to help the youth justice space," Vazquez said. "If they're committed to helping the youth here in Denver, then that's huge for us."
Denver Broncos players, alumni, cheerleaders and Miles the Mascot, attended Monday's gourmet tailgate for a cause supporting Broncos Charities and Food Bank of the Rockies.