There is a quote on the back of each menu at EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute: “At Edwins, we believe in second chances.” Its founder Brandon Chrostowski, himself the recipient of a “second chance,” used his to help to change the face of prison re-entry in Cleveland.
The institute provides culinary training for incarcerated individuals – current and former. The idea is to lower obstacles that hinder their transition back into society. Classic French culinary techniques and basic managerial skills are served up in a six-month program at EDWINS Restaurant at Shaker Square in Cleveland and a nine-month program inside Grafton Correctional Institution.
The institute is the recipient of the 2016 Anisfield-Wolf Memorial Award, $25,000 given each fall to a nonprofit community organization for outstanding service. The prize is administered by the Center for Community Solutions.
“EDWINS is providing an effective solution to a critical community issue by helping people before and after their release from prison to learn skills that can be used in their specific field — the hospitality industry — or transferred to other fields,” said John R. Corlett, president and executive director of The Center for Community Solutions. “And they are doing more by providing services to help them overcome obstacles that have a unique twist for those re-entering society after incarceration and for their families — such as access to basic health care, legal aid, literacy programs, transportation, and employment.”
The initiative has garnered stellar results in its first three years. The program boasts a 0% recidivism rate, and of its 127 graduates, 97 percent have found a job within 30 days of completing the program.
Now 36, Chrostowski remembers standing in front of a judge as a teen, rocked by the possibility of spending 10 years in prison. Instead the judge gave him one year probation. Chrostowski embraced this chance and found a chef who mentored him.
Now himself an accomplished chef, sommelier and a fromager, Chrostowski spent years working at fine dining establishments in New York and Paris before launching EDWINS in Ohio. For him, it’s important not to relegate the formerly incarcerated to the back of the house. “They are sous-chefs, cheese experts and maître-d’s,” he explained in 2014.
The name EDWINS comes from Chrostowski’s grandfather, a man his grandson said embodies the culture he works to cultivate at his restaurant. It’s also a shortened form of “Education Wins,” a philosophy that echoes through the kitchen and dining rooms of this unique nonprofit concern.
“No one forgets the taste of winning,” the founder told CNN. “It’s not on our tongue, but it’s in our soul, and it’s contagious. So if you can overcome a hard challenge here at EDWINS, it’s a win. It gives you confidence. That’s our secret ingredient.”