Brandon Chrostowski, Director of Edwins Leadership and Restaurant Institute on Shaker Square, like all of his "associates" at Edwins, had some trouble with the law in his early years. Then, he got a chance to redeem himself by going to work for a master chef in Detroit who taught him that life has no limits and that a person can always do better if they work hard.
With that encouragement and a determination to be the best, Brandon traveled to France to work in one of the finest restaurants in Paris. After returning to the US, he continued to hone his skills and build his reputation at some of the top restaurants in New York City. In becoming a noted chef, he learned that hard work and “perfect practice makes perfect.”
After finding his own passion and success, Brandon decided that he wanted to give back by providing the skills and the means for recently released ex-convicts to get back on their feet. The "teach a man how to fish..." approach, as Brandon puts it. He started a school that taught prison inmates restaurant skills and the value of hard work. In 2007, he opened Edwins Leadership and Restaurant Institute, which operates as a kind of halfway house, employing only ex-convicts and offering lodging and six months of intensive training in all areas of the restaurant business as well as in "life skills" to anyone recently released from incarceration. Even though 50% of trainees drop out of the rigorous highly disciplined program, the rest graduate in 6 months to begin a rewarding career in the restaurant industry. The biggest hurdle for students is building self-esteem and thinking “yes, I can do this” to help resist negative behavior.
Brandon explained that his efforts are just "one small step" in the effort to solve a huge problem. The US has only 5% of the world's population, but 25% of the world’s prison population. And the rate of returns to prison after release in the US is over 50%--one of the world’s highest recidivism rates. Many of the issues preventing successful re-entry into society have to do with family and legal problems. Edwins works with students and graduates to provide legal and counseling services to help resolve these problems.
Graduates from Edwins are highly sought after and job placement is basically 100%. Currently, more than 150 graduates have either started their own restaurant or are successfully employed in the industry.
In reply to a Rotarian question after his talk, Brandon assured the audience that this educational concept is transferable to many other businesses if they are willing to put in the hard work alongside the students. Edwins uses a non-profit structure encompassing the school, restaurant and supporting foundation.