Fine-Dining Restaurant Uplifts Former Criminals, Jumpstarts Opportunity

Edwins is a swanky French restaurant tucked in the increasingly hospitable streets of downtown Cleveland, Ohio. And sure, it’s known around the area for its fine cuisine — some excellent pate de foie gras for starters. But what truly makes Edwins special is its promise to hire mostly former criminals.

Yes, the very same people who once worked the streets of Cleveland, hustling illegally for money, are now hustling around the tables bearing trays of high-end food for the city’s economic elite.

Just a few years ago, the idea that Cleveland’s one-percenters would be brushing elbows with former inmates would be deemed highly unlikely. Now, it’s practically its own business model.

As the Press Union reports, more than 200 ex-convicts have restarted their lives with the help of Edwins. That’s because the restaurant is not just plucking people out of the itineraries of parole officers and dumping them on the kitchen line. Instead, the place is bringing former criminals into the fold and giving them a chance to enroll in a free, six-month rotation, which serves as its own kind of technical school to prepare attendees for future jobs in the service industry.

And we’re not talking about service industry jobs like pouring drinks at Applebee’s or flipping burgers at McDonalds. No, these are server jobs and managerial positions at high-end restaurants, where the guy taking an order is likely earning a paycheck on par with that of the guy eating the food.

To slide a knife in a fish, easing its bones out in one quick move right in front of the customer? To articulate the difference between steak au poive and pan-seared onglet steak? To pair a wine with a spread of foie gras? All are skills to be learned at Edwins.

Simply put, you have to know your stuff to get a job like that. A stint at Edwins has become its own diploma in the Cleveland area and beyond. Since beginning the program in 2013, more than 200 former criminals have gone through a six-month course at Edwins, and none of them have re-offended since.

What’s more, more than 90 percent of those who have worked at Edwins have gone on to find permanent, gainful employment at similar high-end establishments.

As Edwins owner Brandon Chrostowski said, the place is more than a restaurant — it’s a family.

“There’s a spirit in here where we’re in this together,” Chrostowski told a reporter. “To have a second chance is to have a new life. And if you’re ready to work hard, you can change the stars.”

Head over to Press Union for the full story.

Evan Smith is a Staff Writer for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @Evansmithreport.