Philanthropy and the Dignity of Work: Reimagining Reentry with Brandon Chrostowski

The following was presented as part of a session at Philanthropy Roundtable’s Annual Meeting in October 2022.

With millions of Americans arrested each year, the urgent need for effective reentry programs is increasing among communities across the country. Brandon Chrostowski, founder and CEO of EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute, is on a “mission to reimagine post-incarceration re-entry in the United States.” As a nonprofit leader cultivating personal responsibility through the dignity of work, his approach is simple yet innovative: equip those re-entering society with a skill set and a smile. In his “Big Idea” talk at Philanthropy Roundtable’s Annual Meeting, Chrostowski challenged the philanthropic sector to invest in programs like his to achieve long-term success.


Chrostowski shared his journey from his personal encounter with the criminal justice system to achieving recognition as a chef – and the tragedy that inspired him to create a re-entry program rooted in hospitality and the culinary arts. When a fellow culinary trainee and dear friend was murdered, Chrostowski felt compelled to help offer a second chance to those who have served time in the criminal justice system. His idea: “It’s to open a restaurant that can save the world,” he said.  “I know it could, because it saved mine.”

Chrostowski credits hard work and personal responsibility for his culinary success, and the success of his students. “The greatest lesson I learned, perhaps in my life, was that hard work doesn’t have a language. It doesn’t. It didn’t look at me, the color of my skin, my ethnicity, my past. It didn’t look at any of that. It looked at the hard work I was giving,” he said.

EDWINS, a French fine dining restaurant and training program located in Cleveland, Ohio, hosts a six month on-campus culinary instruction program open to men and women who are coming out of or affected by the criminal justice system.

In addition to providing the skills needed to succeed after incarceration, EDWINS offers holistic care, connecting people with employment, free or affordable housing, basic medical care, clothing, a gym, a library, free child care, job coaching and literacy programs. 

Chrostowski says recidivism rates for those who graduate from the program are less than 1%, compared to the national average of around 50%. He attributes this success to two things a student may not have had before incarceration: a career and a support system. “We make sure that when you leave the program that not only [do] you have the skill … [but that] you’re rehumanized, that’s number one. Because we break, we rebuild,” he said.

In addition to its physical campus, EDWINS has free online training available to half a million inmates across the country. The content includes literature, videos, tests and quizzes that provide a basic knowledge of the culinary arts to be used in a job upon release.

Chrostowski ended his talk with a call for philanthropists to invest in growing and effective programs like EDWINS, and to build long-term relationships with charities to see lives transform, including their own. “Some of our best donors and our best contributors have been those who have been with us, care for us. When things get tough, they stick with it, and the next thing you know, they’re watching not just lives change in organizations, they’re watching their lives change in their philanthropy,” he concluded. You can check out EDWINS and other nonprofits that share the Roundtable’s values of liberty, opportunity and personal responsibility in our Opportunity Playbook.

Check out other Annual Meeting videos at the links below.

Keynotes:

Ken Griffin Receives 2022 Simon-DeVos Prize for Philanthropic Leadership and Discusses Approach to Charitable Giving

Leaders Discuss Future of Conservative Movement at Philanthropy Roundtable’s 2022 Annual Meeting

Elise Westhoff Gives Welcome Address at Philanthropy Roundtable 2022 Annual Meeting

How Philanthropy Can Defend American Values and Support Smart Foreign Policy

Big Idea Talks:

Diversity Done Differently: United, Not Dividing, with Karith Foster

Philanthropy and Civics Education: Hanna Skandera on How Civics Bees Can Help Inform Today’s Students

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