Brandon Chrostowski’s life journey is as impressive as it is inspiring.
Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Brandon’s life took an unexpected turn at the age of 18 when he was charged with resisting arrest following an initial suspicion of a drug-related offense. Instead of the potential 10-year prison term, a discerning judge sentenced him to one year of probation. This incident set the course for Brandon’s remarkable journey towards becoming a mentor, culinary maven, and a beacon of second chances.
Post-probation, he found a mentor in Detroit chef George Kalergis, who introduced him to the culinary world. This mentorship led Brandon to pursue an associate’s degree in culinary arts and a bachelor’s degree in business and restaurant management from The Culinary Institute of America in New York.
His culinary expertise took him from the kitchens of Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago to Jean Bardet’s in Tours, France, and Alain Senderens’ in Paris. Returning to the US around 2005, he honed his skills in renowned Manhattan restaurants like Picholine, Le Cirque, and Chanterelle.
The year 2007 was pivotal for Brandon. He started EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute, an organization he had planned since 2004 to provide professional culinary training, housing, counseling, and life skills classes to formerly incarcerated people.
The name EDWINS, taken from Brandon’s middle name, Edwin, which he inherited from his grandfather, is also a shorthand for “Education Wins.”
Brandon moved to Cleveland around 2008 and became a manager at the French brasserie, L’Albatros. Here, he kick-started his fundraising efforts for EDWINS, which became a success story in 2013 when he opened the EDWINS restaurant in Cleveland’s Shaker Square, staffed entirely by formerly incarcerated people.
Brandon’s passion for offering second chances has seen EDWINS garnering numerous accolades. He was listed in Crain’s Cleveland Business’ “Forty Under 40” in 2015, and a year later, he was one of the 25 CNN Heroes for the year. The year 2016 also saw the completion of the EDWINS Second Chance Life Skills Center, a campus dedicated to current members and alumni of the EDWINS program.
In 2017, he stepped into the political realm, running for the Mayor of Cleveland. Although he didn’t win, his determination to make a difference didn’t waver. Around the same time, EDWINS was the subject of an Academy Award-nominated documentary short, “Knife Skills,” directed by Thomas Lennon.
The following years saw the expansion of EDWINS’ mission, with the opening of Serenite Restaurant and Culinary Institute in Medina, Ohio, focusing on individuals recovering from drug and/or alcohol addictions, and the EDWINS Butcher Shop and Cafe. Brandon also continued his work with the unhoused population by opening an Italian eatery in partnership with the West Side Catholic Center. Furthermore, he expanded EDWINS’ education into prisons and jails nationwide, and began delivering culinary education to children and at-risk youths.
Brandon’s relentless pursuit of excellence and community service has won him the prestigious Silver Plate award from the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA) in 2020 and a nomination for outstanding restaurateur in the United States at the James Beard Awards in 2023.
The awards and accolades are just window dressing to the mission: changing lives through food.
“We’re still really the national model for what we do,” Brandon told a Cleveland-area TV station. “And we’re very, very proud of it.”
Learn more about EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant institute at their website and follow EDWINS on Instagram: @edwinscle