Stories of Impact: EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute Changes the Face of Re-entry One Meal at a Time

Brandon Chrostowski, Founder, President & CEO of EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute, outside his organization’s new butcher shop in Buckeye
Brandon Chrostowski, Founder, President & CEO of EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute, outside his organization’s new butcher shop in Buckeye

EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute not only holds itself to a high standard for hospitality and French cuisine, but a momentous goal to solve the problem of re-entry through food. Founded in 2007, the program receives anyone for interviews, without asking about previous criminal offenses or education. After three weeks of culinary bootcamp, covering everything from culinary math to gastronomy, a student will work every position in the restaurant from dining room to kitchen.

That’s not all. EDWINS recognizes that workforce training alone won’t remove all the challenges citizens face when returning home from incarceration. The organization also offers access to legal services, free housing, basic medical care, a fitness center, library and classes that teach life skills such as financial literacy. Between the Shaker Square restaurant and institute and in-prison program, EDWINS graduates nearly 100 students each year resulting in at least 95% employment after graduation with only 1.4% recidivism.

Brandon Chrostowski, Founder, President & CEO, says, “It’s very simple. Meet someone where they’re at. Challenge hard. Then, six months later, you have over fifty jobs waiting to hire graduates here at EDWINS.” We asked Brandon to share EDWINS recipe for success and details on the institute’s butcher shop expansion and new management training program:

What is the mission of EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute?

Brandon Chrostowski: EDWINS really is hope and a way to achieve it. Our goal is to fulfill someone’s goals in culinary arts and hospitality at the highest level. We’re here to serve anyone coming out of our justice system – or injustice system depending on how you look at it.

What barriers do citizens face when they return from incarceration?

The barriers that someone faces when returning home are numerous. Could be transportation, could be childcare; could be “How do I receive my child back into my care?” It goes from “How do I find a job?” to “Where’s my next meal coming from?” The list is endless, and it’s not common just for being in re-entry, but poverty in general.

How does EDWINS address inequity?

EDWINS addresses inequity very simply: we receive everyone. The goal here isn’t to put up a barrier that says, “You have to have completed this and that in the education world” or “Have this and that experience.” The idea is just to receive someone and meet them where they’re at. I think that’s the best thing you can do to fight inequity. Just to meet someone where they’re at, provide a fair and equal opportunity and then give the support to achieve that goal.

We fight inequity with our skills and talent at the table and restaurant, or how we show ourselves at an event with the public. We continue to beat back the perception of re-entry by showing someone can recommend a fine bottle of Bordeaux and carry on a great conversation. So, someone might say, “That’s really not what I thought of someone returning from prison.” We do it meal by meal. Day by day.

 EDWINS graduates lead a butchery class for local residents at EDWINS Butcher Shop.

EDWINS graduates lead a butchery class for local residents at EDWINS Butcher Shop.

How does a program like EDWINS prevent recidivism?

The program that we have prevents a return to prison in a couple ways. One is providing somebody with strength and support. We try our best to create a home and family environment, so people here know we’ve got their back. The other way this program prevents recidivism is by teaching a skill at the highest level. When you’re empowered with these skills you can go to a job, succeed and move up in it, or get out of it if the owner is keeping you in a position that you can do more in.

Can you speak about the butcher shop expansion?

It’s not good enough just to have a meat class at EDWINS. Our goal has always been to build the best culinary school in the country for those coming out of prison and the next step was to create a classroom that teaches butchery, breaking down whole cows and making sure we show students how each one of those cuts goes into creating a food item. Now we have a butchery on Buckeye and South Moreland that does exactly that.

The butcher shop has really done three things: strengthen our students’ education; revitalize Buckeye which has gone almost 30 years without a butcher shop; and increase our sustainability by having another public facing entity that brings funds in to keep the whole process going.

In May of 2019, the Cleveland Foundation provided EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute with a $65,000 grant to implement a new leadership development program to prepare previously incarcerated individuals for management positions in the culinary and hospitality industry. What are the goals of this program?

We’re trying to create the next generation of leaders, because we know the leaders we train will hire people the same way we do, which is giving people a second or third chance. Leadership training is the next step, almost like a master’s program someone can go on to after the culinary arts and hospitality program. We’re always thinking about the next level and how we can equip our graduates with the skills so they can manage, own and direct other organizations. It’s allowing us to continue to build. The butcher shop is staffed by our graduates. We’re doing consulting that’s led by our graduates. Leadership positions that we have are being filled by our graduates. From Cleveland and beyond, we get restaurants coming to us looking for their next manager or chef, and we can confidently give those recommendations.

I think working with Ronn [Richard] and our program officers at the Cleveland Foundation has been a wonderful thing to do because when starting this, I don’t think people understood or believed that this was possible. The Cleveland Foundation takes the brains that they’ve got and the wealth that they have, and they look in a forward direction. It’s really helped us accomplish what we’re accomplishing today.

Stay tuned for more “Stories of Impact” in our community throughout 2019 featuring Cleveland Foundation partners and grant-funded nonprofit organizations. Looking to donate to a specific field of interest or begin your own fund to support causes you care about? Visit: www.ClevelandFoundation.org/Give.

Support EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute here.

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