EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute is a 501(c)(3) organization that offers formerly incarcerated adults a foundation in the culinary and hospitality industries, and a support network necessary for long-term success.
Located in Cleveland, Ohio and founded by Brandon Chrostowski in 2007, the driving principle behind the organization is that every human being, regardless of their past, has a right to a fair and equal future. In 2011, Culinary Club classes began at Grafton Correctional Institution and shortly after, EDWINS Restaurant opened in Shaker Square on Nov. 1, 2013.
While enrolled in the program, EDWINS students are equipped with intensive training and hands-on work experience. They are also provided with free housing, legal services, basic medical care, clothing, job coaching, literacy programs and more at the Second Chance Life Skills Center (est. 2016), a 30,000 square foot campus.
Today, EDWINS has grown to include an award-winning fine French restaurant, Butcher Shop, Bakery and edwins too; a culinary incubator, community kitchen, event and makers’ space. The Institute graduates 100 students a year and have gained employment in dining establishments across the country.
OUR RESULTS: EDWINS graduates RECORD A 95%
EMPLOYMENT RATE AND LESS THAN 1% RECIDIVISM.
EDWINS’ mission is three-fold: to teach a skilled and in-demand trade in the culinary arts, empower willing minds through passion for hospitality management, and prepare students for a successful transition home.
High-Stakes Haute Cuisine
EDWINS was the subject of the Oscar-nominated documentary Knife Skills by Academy Award Winning director, Thomas Lennon.
Brandon Edwin Chrostowski
FOUNDER, PRESIDENT AND CEO
Brandon Edwin Chrostowski is on a mission to change the face of re-entry in the United States. In 2007, he founded EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute with the belief that “every human being, regardless of their past, has the right to a fair and equal future.”
After receiving a break early in life, Brandon began his career in Detroit and has since trained in some of the world’s finest restaurants. He received an Associate’s degree in Culinary Arts and a Bachelor’s degree in Business and Restaurant Management at The Culinary Institute of America. He apprenticed in Chicago at Charlie Trotters’ and after graduation, worked at Michelin-starred Lucas Carton in Paris where he began to develop cutting-edge skills and the intricacies of a French kitchen.
Brandon returned to the United States to work at Le Cirque, Picholine and Chanterelle, a New York Times and James Beard award-winning restaurant, under the tutelage of restaurateurs Karen and David Waltuck. Brandon also worked closely with Master Sommelier Roger Dagorn who inspired him to become a certified sommelier.
When it came time to leave New York City, he selected Cleveland because of its high incarceration and poverty rates. Why? Brandon believed that there was an opportunity to make a difference with re-entry and second chances.
In 2011, he started the EDWINS program at the Grafton Correctional Institution and in 2013, the Leadership & Restaurant Institute opened its doors in Cleveland.
Brandon’s approach is simple: arm those re-entering society with a skill set and a smile. The program provides training in culinary arts and the hospitality industry. Students in the program are not only equipped with basic culinary skills, but they also receive help with the following: finding employment, free housing, basic medical care, clothing, job coaching, literacy programs and more.
To date, the Institute’s results are clear: 100 graduates per year, a 95% employment rate after graduation and a 1% recidivism rate.
The success of this work and other initiatives led by Brandon has earned him awards and accolades including the 2016 CNN Hero, 2020 IFMA Silver Plate, The Richard Cornuelle Award from the Manhattan Institute for Social Entrepreneurship, as well as Crain’s “40 under 40.”
Fighting for fair and equal opportunities has also earned him praise from The New York Times, Washington Post, Forbes, Food & Wine, The New Yorker and more. He has been featured on TODAY, CBS This Morning Saturday, The Steve Harvey Show, NPR, and is the subject of the Academy Award nominated documentary, Knife Skills.
Brandon resides in Cleveland with his wife and three children.
DIRECTOR OF CULINARY EDUCATION
Gerry discovered his love of the kitchen learning under one of the best cooks he knows – his mom. Many years later, after diverging from a successful career as a golf professional and teacher, Gerry graduated from Le Cordon Bleu. He shares nearly two decades of practical knowledge with EDWINS’ students.
With diverse culinary experiences along the way, the highlights for Gerry include cooking under the direction of Chef Keith Coughenour at the esteemed Duquesne Club in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At the Duquesne Club, he learned the dedication required to work in a professional kitchen and developed his passion for classical French cuisine.
From there, Gerry was able to expand on his classical roots when he moved back to his hometown of Cleveland and worked under Chef Doug Katz at fire food and drink. Chef Katz instilled the belief in him to use local and sustainable products and to run a fully-from-scratch kitchen.
Gerry originally joined EDWINS as a volunteer to help Brandon Chrostowski teach culinary skills at the Grafton Correctional Institution, and was so moved by EDWINS’ mission that he decided to join the staff full time with the hope that he can help people who were formerly-incarcerated have a better life. Today, he is proud to serve as EDWINS’ Director of Culinary Education.
DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS
Jordan Levine has been working in restaurants for 18 years, first washing dishes at his cousin’s pizza parlor before moving up to cooking and serving positions there.
Jordan attended the University of Toledo where he earned his bachelors degree in communication. During that time, he continued to expand his culinary techniques working as a baker and cook in a local middle eastern eatery, while also writing for the school newspaper.
Moving back home to Cleveland, Jordan worked for five years as a server for the Moxie and Red restaurant group in Beachwood where he learned the fundamentals of formal dining and gained a knack for creating memorable guest experiences.
Jordan continued to hone his skills as a server at L’Albatross Brasserie where he discovered his love for French food and wine. During his time there, the restaurant was consistently praised for having the best service in Cleveland.
DIRECTOR OF EDUCATION
After completing his Bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management from Ohio State University, Jon began his pursuit of a career in the restaurant business. His love of fine dining and food started as a young boy while traveling through the States and Europe with his family. He had a particular liking for French food and the open air markets of Paris and Provence.
Jon has been working in the restaurant industry for over 20 years. He started young working with his mom in her gourmet food store where he leaned classic French techniques. From that point forward he continued to delve deeper into French cuisine traveling to France a number of times. After school he continued to grow his talents working for the Hyatt as well as Mayfield Sandridge Country Club where he was a sous chef. Deciding he wanted to make the move to the front of the house he joined the team at Sergio’s Sarava where he worked his way up from expediter to general manager within a year.
He continued his education along the way in food and he started to delve deeper into wine eventually earning his Certified Sommelier Certificate. He also became a ServSafe Proctor and a Ohio Level 2 Food Safety Proctor and Instructor
In his free time Jon enjoys golfing, traveling and entertaining family and friends.
As Jon Bosworth planned his future, he was divided between becoming a teacher or going to culinary school. Jon chose teaching, completing two years at Ashland University.
Later, after fulfilling an externship at the quintessentially innovative cocktail bar, The Spotted Owl, and graduating from the EDWINS program, Jon felt like he was getting a second chance to do what he wanted to do: combining teaching and the culinary arts. He earned a position as EDWINS’ Bar Manager in 2015, where he enjoyed the opportunity to teach our students how to bartend.
In 2020 Jon took on the role of general manager of EDWINS taking the skills he learned behind the bar to another level. He now spends his time conducting the “show” ensuring that the guest has a great experience while making sure the front and back of house are moving together in perfect harmony.
In addition to running the dining room Jon curates that award winning wine list. So whatever bottle of wine you may be looking for from German Riesling to South African Pinotage he’ll have it for you!
In his free time Jon enjoys working on projects around his house, riding his motorcycle and trying out new wines and spirits from around the world.
Jamal joined EDWINS first as a student in 2018 where he excelled in both the front of house and back of hour operations. Upon completing the program he was one of the first students accepted into the management training program. Throughout his time in the program he managed the bakery, edwins too and the butcher shop finally settling down at EDWINS where he took quickly to the role of bartender.
Upon completion of the management training program Jamal was hired on to become the bar manager and has made the bar his own. He loves creating new cocktails and educating the guests on different or new spirits.
In his free time Jamal is an avid Cleveland Browns fan, and enjoys spending time with his family, where he’s always quick to whip up a cocktail….or mocktail for the kids.
CHEF DE CUISINE
Tim started EDWINS at the most difficult time, March of 2020. When the pandemic hit, students had two options, go home and wait till we can reopen or stick it out through the worst moment in restaurant history. Tim decided to stick it out and helped EDWINS succeed throughout the pandemic. Anyone who ordered a 4 for $40 during the pandemic probably met Tim, his infectious smile is tough to forget, as he handed out meals in rain, sleet and snow throughout.
Tim though wanted to finish what he started and jumped back into the program when it started back up, finishing at the top of his class and always demonstrating his passion for food. He had one goal in mind, become the chef of EDWINS and over the past few years everything he did was geared towards making that happen and when the opportunity arose he jumped at it.
Tim’s goal as chef is to continue the legacy of those before him by giving every student the same opportunity he had, and creating a kitchen environment that is always conducive to learning and growing.
Kelly McKinney’s culinary experience began when she entered the program at EDWINS’ in 2014. She was inspired to build on her past careers in both produce and janitorial work when her brother introduced her to the program after bringing home a flier. Prior to joining the program, she had never cooked before beyond preparing food for herself and her children.
Kelly was a member of the second graduating class at the restaurant, leaving the program in September of 2014 to pursue an opportunity to cook at the Music Box Supper Club in Cleveland. She used the skills she developed at EDWINS’ to adapt to a completely new style of cooking; she transitioned from preparing classic French cuisine to dishes from around the globe. After three and a half years at Music Box Supper Club, Kelly rejoined the EDWINS’ community as kitchen manager in 2018.
Kelly observes that despite the growth the restaurant has experienced since her days as a student, some aspects of EDWINS’ have remained the same over the years. The restaurant still feels like a home to her, where she has the opportunity to work and grow alongside incredible people.
She loves that each member of the community has their own story to share and consequently their own experiences and expertise to bring to the table. She is incredibly glad to be back at EDWINS’ and loves working alongside the staff and students once more.
In addition to cooking, Kelly enjoys watching movies and hanging out with her family and friends.
Vegas came to EDWINS to better himself and give himself the best opportunity he possibly could because of his interest in entrepreneurship. Vegas also has a love and passion for the culinary arts and wanted to make it a career for him and his family. Vegas thinks that EDWINS is a great program for people that need a Second Chance because there is no judgement, and the teachers are informative.
Vegas shined in the kitchen and upon completion of the program excepted to offer to become sous chef at the restaurant. As he continues to grow as a cook and chef, his goal is always to let his passion show through in his food.
“If you come here to work, there is no help that you cannot get. I have experienced that firsthand! If you are looking to better yourself and you don’t have the resources to do so, this is a great way to get a jump-start on life.”
DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
Lena Chapin was drawn to EDWINS by the tagline “EAT WELL. DO GOOD.” Enjoying delicious foods and bettering the world are two things that Lena takes very seriously. Her love for cooking and consuming high-quality, locally-sourced foods originated during her time in graduate school at Ohio University studying journalism and public relations.
She joined EDWINS in 2022 as the Director of Development coming to the role with over ten years of fundraising experience. Previously, Lena worked as the Director of Development at the Ignatian Solidarity Network to further their mission of networking, educating, and forming advocates for social justice and the Rose-Mary Center, a Catholic Charities organization that provides housing and programming for individuals with disabilities.
Lena enjoys trail running, a good karaoke session, building relationships, and writing “thank you” notes. Please give by clicking here and allow her to write some more!
To learn more about supporting EDWINS, please contact Lena at firstname.lastname@example.org
DEAN OF STUDENTS
Heather first learned she had a passion for helping others when she was in grade school. She spent a good part of her summers helping her mother take care of her elderly grandmother. This is how Heather learned to be compassionate and how she learned the power of a smile. This blossomed into a variety of different customer service jobs that started with being an associate at the Gap, then a team leader at Atlas Café in Chicago to eventually managing a successful coffee shop for more than three years.
After working in management, Heather decided to pursue her dream of helping underprivileged youth learn about the arts. She currently attends Cuyahoga Community College.
Heather first heard about EDWINS because of her own “break” that she received in life. Since then she has dedicated herself to helping others who are in similar situations to what she was in. She started working at EDWINS in June of 2014 and was quickly promoted to Case Manager once people began to see how she truly wanted to make sure that others had a fair chance to re-start their lives, the way she was.
In her free time, you can find Heather in her garden, cooking new dishes, or walking around the metro parks looking for wild animals.
EXTERNAL AFFAIRS COORDINATOR
Griffin Johnson brings more than two decades of hospitality experience to EDWINS.
Griffin began her culinary education at the Shoreby Club and then later Sergio’s. She completed culinary coursework at the Art Institute of Dallas before joining L’Albatros near its inception, gaining extensive knowledge of fine dining practices and French cuisine during her five years there. Griffin helped open Chinato, and then enjoyed a position at Cowell & Hubbard for several years.
Always eager for new challenges, Griffin was excited to join EDWINS to learn more and grow within an organization. The EDWINS’ mission and Brandon’s philosophy of promotion and providing new challenges appealed to her. Griffin also grew up in the Buckeye-Shaker neighborhood on 116th and Griffing, and she has seen the power of community involvement here. EDWINS provided Griffin with the perfect opportunity to give back.