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Unique staff at Ranger Cafe prepares for October opening

On October 27th, the Ranger Café will open its doors to the public. The 50-seat venue will offer a smart selection of salads, sandwiches and entrees. The hours, however, are a bit limited; the eatery is only open three hours a week: on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from noon to 1:30 p.m.
 
Why such tight time slots? The Ranger Café is housed inside Lakewood High School (LHS), 14100 Franklin Boulevard, and is run completely by students.
 
"The juniors are here from 8 to 11 a.m. They really help prepare and setup the restaurant," says culinary arts instructor Devan Corti. The seniors take the reins from noon to 2:15 pm. "They also prep and help setup, but then they are the ones who are here during hours of operation. They are cooking, serving, hosting, dishwashing.  Any real positions out there in an actual restaurant, that's what they're doing here."
 
"It's a self-contained little business," adds culinary arts instructor Rob McGorray.
 
The 6,000-square-foot café is housed in what was once LHS's East Cafeteria. The space includes a demonstration classroom, dining room and a gleaming kitchen loaded with professional equipment including six ovens, three industrial ranges, two convection ovens, a freezer, walk-in cooler and a smoker for processing turkey and homemade pastrami.
 
"We've been brining it, curing it and smoking it," says Corti. The savory meat then gets piled onto sandwiches with cheese, pickled onions, and various other toppings. The menu also includes soup of the day, quiche of the day, a smoked cheddar burger, fish 'n chips and filet mignon among other offerings. The group is still working out the dessert menu.
 
The program is under the aegis of the West Shore Career-Technical District, which offers a host of vocational programs and caters to students from Lakewood, Rocky River, Bay Village and Westlake. Currently, the culinary arts program serves 20 juniors and 11 seniors, all of whom are hard at work preparing for next month's opening.
 
In addition to running the café, students perform any number of food labs that center on skills such as cooking techniques, making homemade stocks as well as some standards.
 
"They always love making pizza," says Corti. Other favorites include soup lab and ice cream lab. Homemade breads (focaccia, Asiago, sandwich buns) are also house specialties.
 
Students can eat food they prepare and take home lab leftovers. As for the café, which is marking its sixth year in the former cafeteria space, customers include regular janes and joes, teachers, staff members and community groups. During school hours, however, the café cannot sell food to students on account of regulations surrounding public school lunch programs.
 
Culinary arts students also complete a formal food safety curriculum, and learn about aspects of the industry the laymen takes for granted such as the proper labeling for items in the "Grab and Go" cooler. As in any kitchen, unpredictability always looms. When it strikes, McGorray teaches kids to tackle it with an "adapt and overcome" methodology.
 
"How do you restart the fryer or lift the heavy thing without hurting your back? How do you fix a vinaigrette?" poses McGorray. "What do you do if the chef forgot to order the chicken? What if there's a power outage? What do we do?" He recalls when a snow day wiped out 30 reservations. The solution? A staff lunch for the teachers the next day.
 
"We’ve had it all," adds Corti of life's little surprises. 
 
In addition to instruction, hands-on learning and running the café, students round out their experience with culinary competitions, bake sales and field trips to serve families at the Ronald McDonald House. But the real the icing in this kitchen isn't on the cake.
 
"We're not just teaching you how to sauté," says Corti. "We're teaching life skills. We're teaching you how to function in the real world and how to make money at it."
 
"It's thinking on your feet—problem solving," adds McGorray. "That will get you farther than just a degree."
 
The public is welcome at Ranger Café, although reservations are strongly recommended. Call 216-529-4165 and select "1."

Edwins begins expansion into Buckeye with its Second Chance Life Skills Center

Brandon Chrostowski, the founder and CEO of Edwins Leadership and Restaurant Institute at Shaker Square, is moving ahead with his vision of revitalizing the nearby Buckeye neighborhood and providing housing for his restaurant workers.

Construction began in late July on the Edwins Second Chance Life Skills Center – three buildings on 20,000 square feet of property located at South Moreland Boulevard and Buckeye Road. The campus includes a 22-bed dorm, an eight bedroom alumni house, fitness center, library and basketball court, as well as a test kitchen. Edwins students will also have the opportunity to take life skills classes.
 
Edwins students will live in the dorms, rent-free, but $100 a month will be taken out of their paychecks. When they graduate, that money will be given back to them for a deposit on their own apartments. Graduates of the program who can’t find housing can live in the alumni house for $150 a month.
 
The point of the campus is to give Edwins students, who get a second chance at a productive life after being incarcerated through learning the art of working at a French restaurant, a free or affordable place to stay while they get back on their feet.

Edwins Restaurant has graduated 89 students since opening in November 2013 and has a current class of 30. Additionally, Chrostowski teaches classes at Grafton Correctional Institution, where 37 students have graduated.

Chrostowski has lived in some shabby neighborhoods around the globe while working in the finest restaurants. “The way to bridge that is teaching,” he says. “If you can teach those skills, you can work your way out of anything. I’ve hit bottom twice in my life and I got back through good, hard work. Every human being, regardless of the past, has a right to a future.”

Even though construction on the buildings will not be done until November, some of the Edwins students are already living on the property. “Five guys are living there right now, as construction is going on, because they don’t currently have a home,” says Chrostowski. “We have gotten a warm reception there.”

Chrostowski held a fundraiser in February for the $1.6 million project and raised $152,000 on top of two anonymous donations totaling $1 million. Additionally, a slew of community business leaders donated their time and services to Chrostowski to make the idea a reality. Jones Day helped the center to gain nonprofit status, structured the purchase agreements and guided the diligence for the three real estate deals.

“Edwins is a brilliant and unique concept to change the face of re-entry in the United States, and it's consistent with our commitment to doing the right thing," says Chris Kelly, partner-in-charge of Jones Day's Cleveland office. "We take tremendous pride in the civic-minded efforts of our people. The lawyers in our office here were -- and remain -- overjoyed at the prospect of helping Brandon with his bold ambitions. We are extraordinarily proud to be part of his endeavor." 

Other companies include Lightning Demolition, which has done everything at cost, and RDS Construction, which provided its services at below market costs and helped with the planning. “RDS Construction has been guiding and attending meeting after meeting throughout the process,” Chrostowski says.

St. Luke’s Foundation has contributed financially each year toward Chrostowski’s mission. Bialosky and Partners Architects also provided design services.

The Second Chance Center is just a small part of Chrostowski’s vision for the Buckeye neighborhood. He has been working with a team of partners on the area’s revitalization, including housing projects, bringing retail to Buckeye and revitalizing the old Moreland Theater.

“Buckeye’s got the energy, it’s got soul,” he says. “I believe if we rally up the right people for the right projects, we can get ourselves a revitalized street and go from there.”

Old Brooklyn is 'poised to pop' with launch of new business plan competition

Thanks to the success of Gordon Square, 5th Street Arcades and other communities, business plan competitions are all the rage these days. Now the Old Brooklyn and St. Clair-Superior communities in Cleveland and the city of Shaker Heights are launching individual programs to help existing businesses and attract new businesses. The programs are being funded through the Economic and Community Development Institute (ECDI), which received a $30,000 grant from a fund seeded by Huntington Bank at the Ohio Capital Income Corporation.
 
The three communities were chosen by Huntington. “The grant was given to support these three neighborhoods,” says Eric Diamond, ECDI executive vice president of lending. “We went to these neighborhoods and asked, ‘What would you find most helpful?’” Each community came up with its own idea for encouraging economic development.
 
Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation (OBCDC) is hosting a business plan competition that offers applicants a chance to win training and grant funding to launch their businesses. The goal is to fill vacant storefronts along the area's main streets, redevelop former garage and service facilities, and fill up office space. 
 
All eligible applicants will receive "business canvas plan training" from ECDI. A canvas plan is essentially a basic business plan. Eight finalists will then be chosen to receive more advanced business training from ECDI before pitching their businesses to a panel of judges in June. The finalists will be eligible for a chance to win up to $10,000 in grant money, additional training and financial incentives.
 
“We could select all of them, or we could select a small batch of them,” says Jason Powers, OBCDC director of marketing and development. "We hope to come out of this with some funded businesses, all of them trained, and considering Old Brooklyn as a place to grow their businesses.”
 
All types of businesses, from new concepts to existing companies, will be considered, says Powers. The once-sleepy neighborhood is on the rise and its accessible location in Cleveland makes it a prime draw for new restaurants, bars and retail shops. “Old Brooklyn is just poised to pop,” he says. “Everyone’s just really, really ready. We’re looking for those next things.”
 
Interested business owners have until April 24th to apply.
 
Meanwhile, St. Clair-Superior plans to focus on assisting existing businesses in the neighborhood. Experts from ECDI and Business Advisers of Cleveland will assess participating companies in everything from their sales to social media to financing. The companies will then get training and support in the area where they need help. The program should launch next week, according to Diamond.
 
Shaker Heights is also considering a business competition similar to the Old Brooklyn model, but the details are not cemented yet. The Shaker program should launch later this year.
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