Brandon Chrostowski, EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute CEO and founder, speaks on film “Knife Skills”

Hannah Jackson, Staff Reporter

In an event co-sponsored by the Center for Civic Engagement and Learning and the Veale Institute for Entrepreneurship, Case Western Reserve University students were able to participate in a discussion with Brandon Chrostowski, CEO and founder of EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute. Chrostowski spoke on how he was introduced to philanthropy, the Oscar-nominated documentary short “Knife Skills” that captures the EDWINS mission and how students can start their own projects in the Cleveland area.  

EDWINS, which is located in Shaker Square, operates as both a fine dining restaurant, serving upscale French cuisine, and a culinary institute for formerly incarcerated adults. In “Knife Skills,” Chrostowski is followed alongside his first class of students as they prepare for EDWINS’ grand opening. Chrostowski explained in his discussion of the film that he was inspired to create a business with a background in philanthropy after his own experience narrowly missing a five to ten year prison sentence. He received probation instead. 

Through the EDWINS program, former inmates are students, hands-on in all areas of the restaurant for six months as they learn what it takes to operate a high-end establishment. Students are provided housing, donated clothing and are even given access to a library, gym and farm. The program encapsulates the basics of restaurant operations, but delves into a wide variety of culinary topics, with some students having the opportunity to continue their education through the EDWINS management training program that focuses on restaurant management and ownership. The restaurant and school also opened a bakery and butcher shop to give students a diverse range of settings in which to apply their learning, and plan to open another restaurant in the near future to accommodate the increased class sizes. Over the course of the restaurant’s life, the program has expanded into 13 different correctional facilities with many sparking the creation of cooking clubs led by inmates. 

Chrostowski was also asked about EDWINS’ position during the coronavirus pandemic, to which he answered that the Cleveland community truly supports one another. EDWINS was dedicated to feeding those around them in light of locals losing their jobs and being unable to feed their families, so they changed the prices on the menus of each of their establishments. The community responded positively, with EDWINS seeing a 24% increase in business despite many other restaurants seeing decreasing sales. Chrostowski said that EDWINS survived with the help of the community because “we’re fighters, we’re innovators and we know how to cook well.” 

Overall, the philanthropic success of EDWINS would not have been possible without persistence and dedication, to which Chrostowski credits his unique approach to business plans and his five key pillars of business operation: “meet someone where they are at, teach to the top, show perspective, get out of the way and care.”

“You have to be able to care to be able to see it and be able to fix it,” Chrostowski said. “It’s not about who they were. Take them where they want to go.” 

At the end of the discussion, Chrostowski gave some final advice to aspiring entrepreneurs at CWRU: be patient about plans for future businesses and don’t be afraid to fail. “It can’t be perfect, you’ve got to start small and scrappy, mine started inside of a prison,” Chrostowski explained. 

EDWINS Restaurant, Bakery and Butcher shop are all still open for business throughout the week for CWRU students to support.