How Edwins Leadership & Restaurant Institute Is Changing the World

A while ago, I had dinner at the amazing Edwins Leadership & Restaurant Institute in Cleveland, Ohio. I went to Edwins for two reasons. First, it’s an absolutely amazing French restaurant. Second, it’s changing how people in its community move from prison back into society.

Let’s start with the food. Between the four of us (me, my wife, and my wife’s parents), we had roquette salad, a salad special, tofu grillé, steak au poivre, horseradish encrusted salmon with cucumbers and cream, créme brulée, and orange sorbet. All of it was amazing. Even a couple of people who had doubts about whether they would like sophisticated French cuisine left satisfied.

But Edwins is more than an excellent restaurant and a special treat when I’m visiting the in-laws. It’s also a business that’s taking a very purposeful approach to changing the world. And the problem that it chose to address – how ex-offenders reenter society after prison – is a perfect problem for the restaurant industry to address. After all, as anyone who has spent time in the industry knows, there are plenty of former – and, often, current – criminals working in both the back and front of house. Restaurants are where people with no other job prospects end up. And, at their best, they’re where people find real second chances.

Edwins takes that fact and turns it into a mission. It began as a six-month culinary arts program in prison. Now it’s a full service restaurant where former prisoners learn basic culinary skills and other aspects of the restaurant industry while having access to free housing, clothing, healthcare, job coaching, employment placement services, and literacy programs.

And this brings me to the most powerful fact about Edwins. Edwins was started because Brandon Chrostowski saw a problem and got to work solving it.

The most common response to seeing people without jobs today is to create job training programs. We assume that they don’t have skills so we teach them skills. We assume that they don’t have soft skills or middle-class cultural competencies, so we teach them soft skills and middle-class cultural competencies. We might help them with their resume or interview skills. We might help them find some likely employers.

What we (usually) don’t do is give them jobs.

Edwins started as a six-month culinary training program in prison. But the goal wasn’t just to provide training, it was to help people reenter society. So Edwins grew into a place that doesn’t just provide job training… it provides jobs. When Chrostowski saw that housing was an issue, Edwins began providing housing. It provides clothing and healthcare and literacy programs. And, I imagine, it will provide more next year and the year after that and the year after that.

It’s empowering people by meeting needs. And that’s a good thing.

So, if you’re in the Cleveland area, make a reservation. Bon appétit.