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.”