Fine-Dining Restaurant Gives Former Criminals A Second Chance. None Have Reoffended.
Edwins is a fine-dining French cuisine restaurant in Ohio. But this high-end establishment is different from others: it provides jobs to a staff that is almost entirely composed by people who were once in prison.
During the day, ex-offenders learn the fundamentals of the culinary arts industry. At night, when the restaurant opens for business, they put their skills to work.
It’s the vision of Brandon Chrostowski, a chef and veteran of elite restaurants in Chicago, New York and Paris. He realized that the stigma of a prison record made it challenging for ex-offenders to find work, so he decided to do something about it.
He set up a nonprofit program that provides 40 to 50 hours a week of free training in everything from knife skills and the “mother sauces” to the steps of service and the basics of wine.All students rotate through positions in the front and back of the house.
Students get a weekly stipend, and a portion of the donations left by diners in lieu of tips. A full-time caseworker helps them with housing, counseling or getting a driver’s license.
And this recipe is working! Chrostowski says 114 students have graduated, more than 90% of them are employed, and none has returned to prison.
‘I was a reckless teenager, and one night, I was arrested and thrown in jail. Fortunately, I had a judge who gave me a break instead of 10 years in prison. While I was on probation, I met a chef who mentored me. Once I was in that kitchen, I knew that’s where I belonged for the rest of my life,’ Chrostowski said.
‘Seeing the struggle of (these men and women) coming home from prison, I think all the time, “That could’ve been me.” It just pushes me to work harder for them. We’re giving an opportunity and believing in someone, just like that judge believed in me.’
‘The need for housing was immediate. Many of our students were going home to a shelter or the back seat of a car. So we ended up buying three buildings that are now our campus. At the Edwins Second Chance Life Skills Center, we have the dorm, the alumni house, and we’re building a fitness center, library and test kitchen.’
For students, the housing is essentially free; the $100 a month you pay gets returned to you at the end, which gives you a nest egg.
Looking at the pictures, what I see is a bunch of proud and happy people!