Opening this Friday (7/19), a revamped Ohio City Pizzeria! OCP has undergone an extensive makeover and will operate as a nonprofit LLC. I got a chance to talk with Brandon Chrostowski, Founder of EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute, and John Litten, Executive Director of the West Side Catholic Center about their partnership and the path to opening their new version of Ohio City Pizzeria for this weeks Small Business Sunday feature.
Before we get to the interview we wanted to give you a bit of background on both of the organizations.
The West Side Catholic Center has offered hot meals, hospitality, clothing, 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 West Side Catholic Center was established in 1977 by several area churches that saw a critical need within the community due to extreme poverty. They are a unique, private, not-for-profit agency with Catholic roots, independent of the Catholic Diocese and Catholic Charities. Grounded in faith, hope, love, and respect for those we serve, the West Side Catholic Center assists all who come in need of food, clothing, shelter, advocacy and a path to self-sufficiency.
EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute gives formerly incarcerated adults a foundation in the culinary and hospitality industry while providing a support network necessary their long-term success. Their mission three-fold: is to teach a skilled and in-demand trade in the culinary arts, empower willing minds through a passion for hospitality management, and prepare students for a successful transition home. Between its prison program and restaurant and institute at Shaker Square, EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute graduates nearly 100 students a year.
Haley Mills: Why did you make the decision to revamp OCP?
John Litten: This is a space that the West Side Catholic Center has been eying for years that we were finally able to purchase a year and a half ago, all along as a means to empower our clients. We sought and found a great partner in Brandon and EDWINS who could help us make that idea and vision a reality.
HM: What led you to pursue working with EDWINS?
JL: I had brought Brandon in to give us some advice, frankly, and his first reaction was, I want to be a part of this.
Brandon Chrostowski: This was simple. You have a historic pillar in the West Side Catholic Center, with John at the helm bringing in some outside of the box thinking, and you’ve got this old restaurant space with a history that still has the phone ringing. Literally, people are still calling looking for pizza - when we were walking around checking out the space the phone was ringing. You think about and then who we are serving here, and the lack of opportunities, it not only seemed right and just - this was a no-brainer.
HM: How do graduates from the EDWINS program fit into the overall mission of the West Side Catholic Center and/or OCP?
BC: The West Side Catholic Center has been training people for a long time, especially those that they serve. For me personally and as an organization, there are two things going on here. One, I believe in someones potential being fulfilled, that is my duty, that's why I am here on earth. As an organization, we feel the same, the belief that in order to change this world we have to empower someone that wants to do this with the correct skills. When opportunities like this come up for someone to manage, someone to take ownership of the space, it’s the perfect opportunity for graduates to spread the mission, “regardless of your past, you can do anything. You can be who you want to be regardless of who you were.” This is another stage to perform that on. Giving someone else that opportunity, like from the West Side Catholic Center and beyond, the same pathway, made this a very easy fit.
HM: What are some of the ways that graduates are going to be involved?
JL: All of the employees as currently constructed are either graduates of EDWINS or graduates of the West Side Catholic Centers Workforce Development Program. Even on a managerial level, it’s EDWINS graduates leading and primarily West Side Catholic Center clients that are going to be making the food and serving.
HM: I walk in and order a pizza. What is that impact?
JL: Every penny that the pizzeria makes (and there are lots of other things on the menu besides pizza), will go back into the West Side Catholic Center’s programs so that we can help sustain and continue those for another 40+ years. We’ve been serving the homeless and anyone that comes in, with food, clothes, shelter, advocacy and the path to self-sufficiency for 41 years now. This is ultimately just another means to help sustain that.
BC: First off, you’re going to buy two pizzas. One is not enough! The financial piece is big, yes, but the getting to know us piece is HUGE. Food does a lot of things aside from nourishment and we hope that this can accomplish exactly that. Getting to know who we are and what we do, is the first step to engaging our audience. Just because you didn't have a place to live, or because you did this in your past, you are still a great human being and you can do anything. That to me is the pepperoni on the pie!
Ohio City Pizzeria will offer a mix of quintessential Italian dishes and contemporary cuisine, inspired by and enhanced from the restaurant’s original recipes. Complete with fresh 12-and 16-inch pizza pies such as “The Veggie” and “The Supreme” and OCP classics like fried mozzarella and calzone, the robust menu includes a selection of antipasti, salads and entrees such as chicken marsala, spicy mussels, linguini and clams, lasagna and osso bucco. Vegetarian and gluten-free options will also be available. To round out the dining experience, Ohio City Pizzeria features an elevated selection of wines by the glass, cocktails, digestifs and sinfully sweet desserts including tiramisu, cannoli, ricotta cheesecake with punch d’abruzzo and a “Mt. Vesuvius” cake.