Buckeye becomes a neighborhood of second chances as EDWINS expands its life skills campus

Brandon Chrostowski’s growing EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute is thriving, even during the coronavirus pandemic, and Chrostowski has no plans to stop any time soon.

“Business is up, and everyone is healthy, so I have no complaints,” says Chrostowski, EDWINS founder, president, and CEO. “Business at the restaurant is up 40% over last year, the butcher shop stayed open seven days a week [during the coronavirus pandemic] and we’ve doubled business.”

And with every step forward the EDWINS Institute makes, the students make broad strides toward a new life and the Buckeye neighborhood improves even more.

Chrostowski this week announced the EDWINS Institute has acquired two multi-family homes in Buckeye, at 2919 and 2923 E. 130th St.—Situated between Buckeye Road and Forest Avenue.

The 1920s houses are located directly behind the campus, EDWINS Butcher Shop and EDWINS Bakery.

<span class="content-image-text">2923 E. 130th (just acquired; TBD occupancy timing)</span>2923 E. 130th (just acquired; TBD occupancy timing)The two-family house at 2919 E. 130th St., purchased through private sale, features two bedrooms, a kitchen, living room, den, and bathroom in each up-and-down unit—providing essential family housing for EDWINS graduates and current students.

After minor renovations, the house should be ready for occupancy by September.

Chrostowski says the house at 2919 E. 130th St., acquired through the Cuyahoga Land Bank, is still undergoing assessment and an occupancy date has yet to be determined.

A third property was acquired this week. That house is in disrepair and will likely be demolished to make space for a children’s play area

The land and houses will become part of the Second Chance Life Skills Center, a 20,000-square-foot campus established in 2016 for living, working, and recreational enrichment.

Chrostowski was able to buy the properties in part thanks to a three-year, $300,000 commitment from KeyBank. Through its community engagement strategy KeyBank targets neighborhoods like Buckeye that align with Mayor Frank Jackson’s Neighborhood Transformation Initiative.

KeyBank is very proud of the long-standing relationship we have with EDWINS,” says Amanda Petrak with the bank’s corporate responsibility team. “The first $100,000 was used to support the butcher shop; the second $100,000 was used to support the bakery; and the final payment is being used to develop family and alumni housing.”

After some minor renovations on the house, two EDWINS students or alumni and their families will take occupancy in September. Those families will have access to the amenities of the Second Chance Life Skills Center including a gym, library, technology, learning facilities, and other support services.

Chrostowski says finding good housing can be difficult for those in the EDWINS program. “Many of our graduates, or current students, have families, and it’s difficult to find housing because they have records,” he explains. “It’s one more barrier they have.”

The EDWINS students face a variety of challenges when they get out of prison and try to start their lives over. As they go through the program, building a foundation in the culinary and hospitality industries, they also build a support network necessary for long-term success.

Chrostowski wants to remove as many barriers he can for his graduates, as he clears a path for them. “There’s so much psychology when you get out of prison—you say, ‘I can only do so much, I can only dream this big,’” he explains. [They have to say], I’m a returning citizen, I have a family, and I still can.”

Six EDWINS alumni and current students and their families are currently looking for affordable housing and there already is a waiting list for the apartments.

Chrostowski says he plans on starting a program where the tenants can learn about what it takes to become homeowners.

“We don’t want them renting forever,” he says. “So, we have a program on how you can own that house. It may not be this house, but it’s a stepping stone to home ownership.”

He says a program that will take six months to a year to complete will work on building credit, keeping current on mortgage payments, and other topics. “When you’re developing your career, you family, your life, you want to take you time and do it right,” he says. “It’s not going to happen overnight.”

Meanwhile, Chrostowski has his sights on buying additional homes in the neighborhood and continues to build his presence as one of the cornerstones of Buckeye’s revitalization.

When COVID-19 shut the city down, Chrostowski not only increased his hours at the butcher shop (it is deemed an essential business), he added staples like eggs and milk—and yeast because he says everyone was making bread during quarantine—to his stock. And he sold his goods at fair prices.

Buckeye residents have embraced EDWINS presence. “People know what our intentions are, and we’re not pricing them out of the neighborhood,” Chrostowski says of both his houses and his shops. “When it’s all said and done, people remember who you were.”

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.