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Hunter Associates Client Appreciation Event highlights EDWINS founder

The Salem office of Hunter Associates featured Brandon E. Chrostowski, center, founder of the non-profit EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute, at a Client Appreciation Event on Sept. 7. Pictured from left are Hunter financial advisors J. Michael H. McCulloch, Daniel J. Scarpitti, Robert S. McCulloch, Chrostowski, John C. Scarpitti, and David A. Scarpitti. (Submitted photo)

SALEM — Hunter Associates used its recent 2019 Client Appreciation Event in Salem to spotlight the transformational work of Brandon E. Chrostowski, founder of the non-profit EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute.

In less than 12 years, Chrostowski has turned his ideas of using culinary arts education to give previously incarcerated people “a fair and equal chance” into a national model program.

“This is about re-dignifying someone who’s had it stripped away by prison or from poverty, to get them on the fast-track of winning, because once you taste that, once you are on the pathway of what you want to do, once you are empowered, these temptations that come up aren’t as appealing,” Chrostowski said, noting that fewer than 1percent of EDWINS’s 330 graduates have returned to prison.

Robert S. McCulloch, vice chairman, and John C. Scarpitti, managing director, of Hunter Associates, said they hope the 150 people who attended the Sept. 7 event will support EDWINS or follow-up on Chrostowski’s suggestion that they use their social networks to give ex-convicts a “second chance.”

The Hunter event also featured finance-focused presentations by Joseph E. Besecker, president and CEO of Emerald Asset Management Inc., and Connor Browne, a managing director of Thornburg Investment Management.

McCulloch, a long-time Salem Public Library trustee and member of several foundation boards, said the firm likes to feature community service programs at client events.

“Brandon Chrostowski’s message that ‘success involves investing in those who need it most’ is an important one that we wanted to share,” he said.

Chrostowski and EDWINS have attracted media attention, mostly recently on CBS Good Morning; been the subject of Knife Skills, a documentary film nominated for an Academy Award; and earned recognitions including The Richard C. Cornuelle Award from the Manhattan Institute for Social Entrepreneurship.

EDWINS currently operates the following:

— A 60-seat French restaurant in Shaker Heights, where its flagship training site includes free housing for trainees;

— Serenite Restaurant in collaboration with the Recovery Center of Medina County to teach culinary skills to individuals recovering from substance abuse disorders;

— Ohio City Pizzeria as a job training site for people from a nearby homeless shelter;

— A butcher shop in Shaker Heights that trains formerly incarcerated people to become butchers; and

— A program at Grafton Correctional Institute that prepares inmates to work in the hospitability industry when they are released.

Chrostowski plans to start a bakery soon.

EDWINS’s intense, six-month training program for ex-convicts has a 90 percent placement rate for graduates who are taught how to work in restaurant kitchens and in “the front of the house.” Fifty-five percent of EDWINS’s operations are now run by program graduates.

Chrostowski began teaching the fundamentals of French cooking to Grafton inmates as a volunteer while he worked as the general manager of a high-end Cleveland restaurant. The curriculum he developed is now used at 30 facilities run by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

He told the audience in Salem that he moved to Cleveland from New York City with a rudimentary plan to create an excellent restaurant that would be a school for people with criminal records to get a second chance.

“I started EDWINS because I got a break,” Chrostowski said, explaining that shortly after graduating from high school in 1998 he committed a crime that could have put him in prison for 10 years. The judge gave him probation and ordered him to get a job. He found work as a busboy, and unexpectedly a career. “I loved cooking from the moment I stepped into that kitchen,” he said.

The chef of the restaurant in Detroit became a mentor who taught him French cooking techniques. He also wrote a letter of recommendation that helped Chrostowski gain admittance to the Culinary Institute of America, where he earned associate and bachelor’s degrees. He went on to work as a chef for highly-rated restaurants in Chicago, Paris, and New York City.

Chrostowski is driven to use everything he has learned not only to run outstanding restaurants that teach top-notch skills, but to change the nation’s high rate of re-incarceration. To change things for people with prison records, he said it comes down to this: “If you just give a fair and equal opportunity, things happen–good things happen.” (Submitted material)

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