American Culture

The EDWINS Project: a model from Cleveland for reentry

EDWINSA couple of weeks ago I got to tour a new residential project that is taking shape a few blocks from where I live. It’s not a new a development or a swanky condo high rise. It’s a campus to house students from the EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute. The students are former prisoners, mostly from correctional institutions in Ohio, who are working to build new lives on the outside by training full-time for careers in the restaurant industry. The campus will provide a safe, convenient living space for people who might otherwise be homeless.

So far, about 89 students have completed their training at EDWINS in 2 years. The placement rate is over 90%. The recidivism rate: 0%. That’s a much better success rate by far than any sports team in Cleveland could ever hope to have–and one that is far more important.

EDWINS restaurant is in the northwest block of the Shaker Square commercial district. The cuisine is classically French and the atmosphere is upscale enough that we often feel not dressed quite right to even stop at the bar for a cocktail (although last winter, on a blustery, snowy night we holed up by the fireplace in jeans, and no one seemed to have a problem with it).

The restaurant, institute, and campus are the brainchildren of Brandon Chrostowski, a tall, thin, rather ageless-looking man, despite his gray hair. Brandon’s originally from Detroit and, after a brush with the law in his teens, went on to become a chef and master sommelier (if you want some idea about what it takes to earn the latter designation, check out the documentary Somm). He eventually found his way to Cleveland and opened EDWINS in 2013.

Underlying all of the hard work is the determination to remove the impediments to students being successful. Helping individuals find a home and a supportive sense of community is vital to the mission.

The Campus sits at the corner of Buckeye Road and South Moreland–where South Woodland Road becomes Buckeye and the suburbs abruptly become the inner city. There are 3 buildings: a 7-unit apartment building (that will house 3 in each unit), a duplex (that will house 10 alumni), and a former burned-out pizza joint that has stood vacant with broken windows since I moved in to the area in 2008. The last building will contain the test kitchen and library (for practice and study in the evenings) and a workout facility. In a small space between the two there will be a drop-in police outpost, whose planning and presence raised more questions than anything else on my tour (yes, it does have support in the neighborhood, in case you are wondering).

Campus2The apartment units are freshly painted and remodeled. Much of the furniture was purchased for a bargain price from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, who had received the bulk donation from a hotel chain that was undergoing rebranding. The mattresses were purchased from a local manufacturer. A local church, St. Dominic’s, has created care baskets for the new residents, with bedding and toiletries. The apartment kitchens still need to be outfitted, as well as the test kitchen (you can help out through Amazon for the apartments and test kitchen).

The plan is to continue to grow “right down Buckeye” as one person put it. The next project will be the creation of a butcher shop and fishmonger in the next building that used to house Buckeye Beauty Supply: more training, more skills, more jobs, and another revenue stream. The rest of the block is vacant, the boarded up windows belong to an apartment that burned in 2013. Obviously there is a lot of room for redevelopment and who knows what might happen. Well, undoubtedly Brandon Chrostowski knows. His plan is to spread the EDWINS model to other cities that are interested.

BuckeyeBrandon spoke about EDWINS at the City Club of Cleveland on September 23, 2015. He tells his story more powerfully than anyone else ever could. Take a few minutes to hear about something great happening in Cleveland.

Photos by the author.