Social entrepreneur Brandon Chrostowski was arrested in Detroit at the age of 18 and faced a long jail sentence. Instead, he received a second chance and was sentenced to just one year in probation. That was when he decided to turn his life around. He finished high school and went to a culinary institute where he peeled carrots. His relentless work ethic found him restaurant jobs in New York City, Chicago, and then Paris. It was there that he began telling himself to "quit screwing around, quit making excuses, quit overthinking things. Just do it.” In Paris, Brandon realized that "hard work doesn't have a language."
Yet becoming a successful chef was not enough for Brandon Chrostowski. He thought to himself, “I’ve got to do something even bigger with my life. It may take a long time, but I’m going to start today.” His dream was to give a second chance to ex-convicts. During his time off from his 80hr/week restaurant work, Brandon began teaching culinary skills in a local prison. He spent $2,000 of his life savings to buy all the equipment.
As his project grew, he built Edwin's Restaurant and Leadership Institute in Cleveland, Ohio. Not only is it a top rated restaurant, the staff who work at Edwin's Restaurant are ex-convicts who receive training and housing. Brandon attributes the success to his work ethic and trust in his instincts: “People think you have to rest one day. You don’t have to. You can work on a project. You can work 100 hours per week. You just do that seven days a week. When you hit it like this for a decade, things start to happen. You really chip away at what needs to get done and built.”
Brandon was recently named a CNN Hero.
Brandon Chrostowski began working in the restaurant industry in Detroit before he was 18
Brandon Chrostowski got arrested at age 18 and faced a 5-10 year jail sentence. Instead, he received a second chance and was sentenced to just one year in probation.
He was a high energy child who loved to push the limits
He started working in the restaurant industry in New York, Paris, and Chicago
Back in Detroit, friends were getting killed or going to jail
The idea of race was a big issue for Brandon
“I’ve got to do something bigger with my life. It may take a long time, but I’m going to start today.”
When Brandon started Edwin’s Restaurant, he was still paying off school loans
“You can work 100 hours per week.”
Edwin’s schedule when starting Edwin’s Restaurant: 8am-10am Edwin’s Restaurant, 10am-midnight work at a restaurant, midnight-2am Edwin’s Restaurant
“You just do that seven days a week.”
“People think you have to rest one day. You don’t have to. You can work on a project.”
Brandon works from 8am until 1am six days a week currently, and 10-12 hours on a Sunday
“When you hit it like this for a decade, things start to happen. You really chip away at what needs to get done and built.”
Brandon had to figure out how to start and run a nonprofit organization
While Brandon worked as a full-time chef, he started small, by teaching culinary skills in prison. That’s how he started
A documentary about Edwin’s Restaurant will be coming out in early 2017, with 4 years of footage
“Nobody’s going to invest in you if you don’t invest in yourself.”
Brandon invested $1,000-$2,000 to purchase the startup equipment like knives
Small family foundations began supporting Brandon
One in three people have been involved with the justice system in the US
Stigma makes it hard for people with criminal records to find jobs
Yet it’s a crutch. If you have a special skill and the desire to work, there is no trouble finding a job, even with a felony. It’s hard, but that’s if you don’t have a skill.
“Hard work doesn’t have a language.” About succeeding in France
50% of people who leave prisons go back to prison eventually
In the prison program, a typical student will get trained for four hours each Saturday on the fundamentals of cooking
At the restaurant, students get interviewed and join the training academy
The first three weeks of the academy is extremely challenging. Students memorize many facts and get tested.
Half of the students quit during the training
Applicants are not judged based on previous offenses or education level
Edwin’s Restaurant will help students get licenses, bank accounts, insurance, and other life basics
Students go through an additional 5.5 month training program where they rotate through all the different positions: host, server, bartender, food runner, pastries, cold food, fish, meat, prep working, business management, etc.
The days are 10-12 hours each day of class, setup, restaurant work, meetings, etc.
Case managers help the students in their lives
“You need a MAKE IT HAPPEN kind of approach no matter what.”
Building up the self-esteem of the students is a high priority for Brandon Chrostowski. He does so by giving bigger challenges and helping them overcome those challenges, day after day
“It’s about coming together as a family.”
If a student is having problems with drug addiction, Edwin’s Restaurant will help them through rehab, sponsor programs, strengthen their network, uphold them to high standards
Before, drugs affected 30% of the students at the academy. It has been reduced to about 10% now.
“Everyone here has a life plan. And as they are succeeding in their life plan, they’re winning. And that winning is addictive... And anything that might make you lose… you’re more apt to say no.”
Some of his students were homeless and slept on couches.
In three months, Edwin’s Restaurant raised $1.3 million to build a campus with free housing, 25 beds for his students, including a fitness center, library, and basketball court.
Brandon’s mentor used to challenge Brandon to do more, teaching him the MAKE IT HAPPEN attitude
“Continue trusting your instincts.”
Brandon does not own a TV to avoid the fear-driven media
Brandon had no doubt that the project was going to work. It was simply about building it.
Brandon felt thankful everyday, and very little fear
Being a social entrepreneur is tough. Brandon went through a divorce because he wife thought he was too obsessed with the project. Twice he was left without a home.
Brandon Chrostowski feels grateful for life and for being alive
Brandon Chrostowski is hoping to add a butcher shop
“It’s a day at a time.”
The first days of Edwin’s Restaurant was like the “Wild West.”
Alvin was one of the first students. He was sent to jail mid-way through the training but he kept studying in jail. He persevered and is now running a restaurant in Detroit.
95% of the customers know what the restaurant is about when they come.
Edwin’s Restaurant is rated as the #1 restaurant in Cleveland
A hamburger at Edwin’s Restaurant costs $33!!
The cost to run the academy is offset by the profits made through the restaurant
“People will come for the mission maybe once. But they’re not coming back unless the experience is stellar.”
According toBrandon Chrostowski, the potato-wrapped grouper in a red wine butter sauce is the best meal at the restaurant
“Quit thinking about it. Just do it.”
“Shoot, aim, fire.”
“Quit screwing around, quit making excuses, quit overthinking things. Just do it.”
You don’t have to be in New York City to start an innovative program
“Sometimes the right place is where you’re at.”