CLEVELAND, Ohio – U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos got a taste of what Edwins Leadership and Restaurant Institute has to offer the education system in America on Tuesday when she visited the grounds of Brandon Chrostowski’s experiment in rehabilitation.
As part of her back to school tour of abstract learning facilities, DeVos toured Edwins Butcher Shop in Buckeye-Shaker, the site where the formerly incarcerated learn the ropes of fine dining and French cuisine.
“This is just a terrific example of the opportunity for education and serving in a way that some people gravitate to just like a duck to water,” DeVos said. “I have been tangentially involved in the restaurant business and I know that people who love to cook love to cook. When they find that passion and can develop that to the highest level of excellence, what could be better than that?”
Chrostowski, who himself got into legal trouble as a youth, founded Edwins in 2013 as a nonprofit culinary academy for people who’ve been entangled in the criminal justice system. In essence, it operates as a trade school, teaching its students about both the business side of restaurants and day-to-day operation like food preparation and serving.
The school has received acclaim, both for its unique model and highly-regarded cuisine. It was the subject of the 2017 Academy Award-nominated documentary film “Knife Skills” directed by Thomas Lennon.
So far, 350 alumni have graduated from the program and its famed Shaker Square restaurant, where DeVos said she was dining later in the evening.
“Edwins is a model for reentry. It’s a model for reintegration and it’s all through education,” Chrostowski said. “I’m just thankful for the secretary of education and department of education coming out to see what we do and highlight our students and their amazing achievements, because that’s what it’s all about.”
DeVos said she was first made aware of Edwins by Dougie Simmons, her deputy chief of staff and former staffer for U.S. Sen. Rob Portman.
DeVos’ tour included Edwins Butcher Shop, a more casual dining experience with fresh meats — and a duck and chicken coop in the back lot.
Chrostowski also showed DeVos the soon-to-be-completed bakery and the on-site library, which is undergoing remodeling to provide a public space for the neighborhood.
DeVos, a noted private school advocate, did not say whether she thought there was a place for the federal government to assist a school like Edwins, though she listed making PELL grants or student loans available to entrants as a possible means for federal assistance. Chrostowski said Edwins does not take any state or federal money.
“There could be a role where there are things that can’t be accomplished in the private sector,” DeVos said. “I’m first and foremost an advocate for private philanthropy and decision making. We know that when the federal government gets involved, it comes with all kinds of strings.”