Since opening EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute, Brandon "Mr. Second Chance" Chrostowski has been single-minded in his mission to provide a meaningful way forward for ex-convicts. That French bistro and culinary training center, the subject of the Oscar-nominated documentary Knife Skills, continues to roll out graduates who are prepared to fill waiting jobs in restaurants around the city and beyond. With almost no exception, those who do advance and land jobs stay out of prison because, as the moniker suggests, education wins.
But Chrostowski is also a pragmatist who understands that a meaningful cause isn't enough to keep the chairs full at Edwins; diners still desire and demand a great restaurant experience.
Those twin objectives — teaching a skill while providing a marketable product to the community at large — are also at play at Edwins Butcher Shop, which is currently taking shape in the Buckeye-Shaker neighborhood of Cleveland. When it opens next month, the 3,500-square-foot shop will provide another layer of culinary edification for students while introducing a neighborhood-appropriate retail food option.
"My goal on this whole project is always student-driven, to make sure that students learn a skill set here," Chrostowski explains during a walk-through of the space. "But the idea is to bridge this gap between what we are doing and the community we are doing it in. You can't just pop in a Starbucks and say it's for everyone. It's got to feel like it's for everyone. If it doesn't, I've failed."
By Chrostowski's estimation, the shop will be the neighborhood's first fresh meat vendor in almost 50 years. He purchased the long-dormant property, most recently a beauty shop, almost two years ago. It joins the three-building campus that also includes Edwins Second Chance Life Skills Center, which provides housing, support services and amenities to current and former students. All of it sits a short 10-minute walk from the restaurant on Shaker Square.
Since purchasing the building, Chrostowski has secured the roof, shored up the façade, demoed the shell, replaced the windows and rebuilt the interior. Behind a wall of windows, and beneath 18-foot ceilings, is the makings of an old-school butcher shop and retail marketplace. Slicked with subway tiles and embellished with retro fixtures like '70s-style display coolers, a 1900s-era hardwood ice chest and a vintage reach-in soda fridge, the shop will cater both to home cooks and area residents in search of great, quick meals.
"It's a butcher shop, so we're going to have the different cuts of meat, our own charcuterie, sausages, smokies, you name it," reports Chrostowski. "But prepared foods is also going to be a big part of what we do. We're not just going to sell butchered items."
Customers can pop in for rotisserie chickens, braised meats, smoked barbecue and hot soups. Meals like sandwiches with a side of greens or mac and cheese can be enjoyed on site in the 30-seat cafe or taken to go. Coolers and freezers will stock pickles, burgers, ground beef, stocks, bones, condiments and beverages. The shop will sell carryout beer and wine.
"There are two markets here that we are serving: people who live on a fixed income and people who have expendable income," announces Chrostowski.
In service of the teaching portion of the facility, three to six students at a time will undergo an intensive two-week butcher training program under the guidance of lead butcher Travis Gunter, most recently at Urban Farmer, and three Edwins graduates. An overhead meat trolley and rail system will safely and effortlessly transport whole and half animals from the delivery door straight into the chilled production room. There the meat will be broken down for use on site or sold to sister establishments Edwins and Serenite Restaurant & Culinary Institute in Medina.
"Butchery is an amazing skill and it's an empowering skill," says Chrostowski. "This is not slicing a whole beef tenderloin. I want to take it deeper. This program is designed to really give you those skills."
At last count, 262 people have graduated from the program and landed gainful employment. There are still 50-plus jobs waiting to be filled by future graduates, Chrostowski says, and a skill like butchery will make them all the more marketable in today's farm-to-table culinary landscape.
Plans call for the overarching organization to continue transforming properties in the historic Buckeye neighborhood into potential businesses like a bakery, fish shop or cheese store, all fertile learning environments for students.
"This neighborhood deserves this," states Chrostowski. "They have not gotten a person to come into this neighborhood and give them a decent product for a decent price. Unfair pricing, lack of healthy food options and economic oppression have gone unchecked in our poorest neighborhoods for decades. The butcher shop is another piece in our overall plan to combat these issues."
If all goes as planned, you'll be able to purchase your holiday hams and turkeys at the butcher shop.