West Side Catholic Center’s Ohio City Pizzeria offers second chances
by Colin Murnan
(Plain Press, September 2019) The West Side Catholic Center has partnered with EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute to take over and run Ohio City Pizzeria. The Catholic Center had been in talks about buying the restaurant for eight to ten years, but the opportunity never came to fruition until now. On July 19th, the restaurant opened at 3223 Lorain Avenue, displaying a revamped menu and interior, complete with mellow light and a darker, more inviting atmosphere that embodied a classier look rather than the more original, old fashioned pizzeria. Despite all of the elegant changes, an even bigger, more central part of the business has changed.
The West Side Catholic Center taking over the business means that the pizzeria will not only be a place to serve great pizza, but also a place of second chances. Since 1977, according to their website (https://www.wsccenter.org), “the West Side Catholic Center has offered hot meals, hospitality, clothing and household goods, emergency services, advocacy, a family shelter, and a housing solutions program to those in need at no charge, regardless of religious affiliation.” The Center was started in an act of compassion for those struggling in poverty in the community. Several churches came together with a plan to help these people get back on their feet. This is the first time the Center will be running a restaurant for their nonprofit. Manager of Economic Opportunities Frank Johanek understands the challenge of running a restaurant.
“Because it’s new, because we’re not in the restaurant business, we’ve sought out a partner who knew what they were doing. We partnered with EDWINS to do the training, to be our consultants for the first year.”
The institute, run by CEO Brandon Chrostowski, trains formerly incarcerated individuals and helps them hone their skills and get jobs in restaurants all over Cleveland. Their website states (https://edwinsrestaurant.org), “We give formerly incarcerated adults a foundation in the culinary and hospitality industry while providing a support network necessary for their long-term success.”
It’s clear to see how motivated Chrostowski is by simply having a conversation with him. While helping out in the back kitchen of Ohio City Pizza, cutting up vegetables and dressing pizzas, he talked about his humble beginnings, being charged with a crime in his teens that could have imprisoned him for years. He got off with a light sentence and a new outlook on life, deciding to become a chef and earning degrees in both the culinary arts and business and restaurant management from The Culinary Institute of America. From there he travelled to Europe where he gained valuable experience in French kitchens. He returned to the United States and finally settled on Cleveland to start EDWINS.
Since its inception, the Institute has done impressively well at getting jobs for students of the program, with at least ninety-five percent employment after graduation. This is the kind of success the West Side Catholic Center is looking to replicate, as they are bringing those from the Center over to the Pizzeria to help them get jump started back into the work force.
“It would be difficult to get that next job for various reasons,” Frank Johanek said, “and so this gives them a chance to work, to feel good about themselves, make some money, improve their resume, and gain some valuable skills.”
Even though the work is temporary, Johanek knows how important a job, even 18-35 hours a week, can be for future employers.
“We look at it as a transitional point, but roughly speaking a year, six months to a year, and if they’re doing well, we can look at other options. Meanwhile, we’re right next door, and they can check us out . . . we have a lot of leads here.”
Johanek stressed the importance of the Center’s mission, particularly in Ohio City.
“Our mission [is] really to lift those people up in the community that can often be disregarded. Especially in an area now, that has undergone such redevelopment, it’s really important that the whole community be involved.”
Even though Ohio City Pizzeria will bring people in for the food, it is also a place that practices compassion and responsibility for the citizens its serving.
Johanek summed it up best. “Folks deserve a second chance, and [Ohio City Pizzeria] really does give people a second chance.”
PHOTO BY DEBBIE SADLON
PHOTO BY DEBBIE SADLON
Thursday, August 15, 2019; Ohio City Pizzeria, W. 33rdand Lorain Avenue: Volunteers (L-R): Dan, Anne, Terrie, Judy, Mary and Bob from West Side Catholic Center have lunch at the Ohio City Pizzeria. West Side Catholic Center is now operating the pizzeria as a full-service restaurant and a job training center.