Do you ever think you know what a place (or a person) is about and then realize that you’ve barely scratched the surface? After spending a morning with Brandon Chrostowski getting a tour of the EDWINS campus, I am even more inspired by the depth and breadth of the organization than I was before.
Many of us are familiar with EDWINS Restaurant on Shaker Square, which has been serving fine French cuisine since 2013. The restaurant provides a 6-month training program in culinary arts to formerly incarcerated adults that allows graduates to go on to success in the hospitality industry.
Brandon said the Buckeye neighborhood was selected because it sits at a crossroads of poverty and incarceration, with easy access to public transportation, as well as a community that was welcoming and in need of the goods that EDWINS’s provides.
But beyond the restaurant, butcher, and bakery shop you may know of, there is an entire EDWINS campus housed in the Buckeye neighborhood, founded on the notion of giving time and space to things that are of importance. There is a library housing over 4,000 cookbooks to educate and inspire the students.
There are dorms where Institute students can live for the cost of utilities and a $100 per month stipend that it returned at the end of their stay. There is also housing for graduates of the Institute, as well as a fitness center, locker rooms, a thrift store (where donations of everything from clothing to household items are welcomed,) and a small “farm” with goats, ducks, and chickens.
Brandon Chrostowksi, the founder of EDWINS, was inspired to start the organization to mirror a break he got in his own life at age 19. Brandon attended the Culinary Institute of America and has worked in restaurants in Detroit, Chicago, Paris, and New York City.
Brandon moved to Cleveland in 2008 to launch his EDWINS concept because, at the time, Cleveland had the worst high school graduation rate in the country and he saw that there was a need for this kind of service in the city. Since then, Brandon has embraced the community and vice versa, even running for mayor of Cleveland.
Brandon told me that Cleveland is the most segregated city he’s ever lived in, but that it is also one of the most philanthropic. That the people of Cleveland are aware of the inequities that exist in the city and seem genuinely motivated to want to correct them.
EDWINS began as a teaching program in one prison and has now expanded to thirteen prisons. There is also the 6-month culinary arts program after release, which includes all aspects of the restaurant world from cooking to baking to front of house to back of house. Once a student graduates, they can go on to work in restaurants (EDWINS graduates are working in over 100 different Cleveland restaurants) or stay and train new students.
EDWINS meets each student where they are, teaches them that excellence is always employable, and provides them with a broad perspective on the restaurant industry. There is also a newly-started management program to teach graduates to run each of the EDWINS businesses.
Brandon is the definition of a hands-on owner. During my time there, I saw him do everything from check dough to assist a volunteer in the kitchen to jump rope with one of the student chefs to ring up a bakery customer.
It’s this kind of hands-on leadership that not only makes EDWINS successful, but made it able to successfully pivot during the pandemic to serving massively popular 4 for $40 meals.
The day after the restaurants shut down, EDWINS had an outdoor grill set up on Shaker Square and was serving up comfort food from burgers to steaks to lamb chops. Brandon had three goals in that time: keep everyone healthy and employed, feed Cleveland, and spread the mission of EDWINS. The 4 for $40 concept kept every aspect of the EDWINS enterprise employed, from butchers to bakers to cooks. And it gave the community a visible representation of EDWINS commitment to it.
EDWINS is still offering the 4 for $40 (including brisket coming up this weekend), as well as some fantastic Father’s Day specials:
EDWINS Butcher Shop Specials – order at 13024 Buckeye Rd. or call ahead to order for pick-up: 216-417-1100
$30*, 16oz. Prime ribeye with garlic mashed potatoes, truffled mushroom ragout and parsley-lemon butter; add a bottle of wine for $25 or Crowler of beer for $7
~$100.00, 12oz Japanese Wagyu NY Strip Streak, fresh A-5 Kobe beef
~$24.99/#, Dry Aged Porterhouse
*Special is prepared for takeaway: steak is raw, potato and mushrooms are cooked.
EDWINS Bakery Dessert Specials – order at 13106 Buckeye Rd. or call ahead to order for pick-up: 216-675-0896
~Triple chocolate cookies $3 each
~Brownies with walnuts $3.50 each
~Raspberry swirl cheesecake $25 (serves 8-10, preorder by 6/19 at 12pm, required)
EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute Prix Fixe Menu – available 6/18/20 only for dine-in and pickup at 13101 Shaker Square, 216-921-3333
$75 per person
EDWINS fills a need in the community and does so in a comprehensive, thoughtful manner. While not a native, Brandon is certainly authentically Cleveland in his commitment to bettering our city and serving all its residents.