From Prisoner to Restaurateur: How Learning to Cook Changed Dink Dawson’s Life

In this episode of the Essential Cooking Podcast, Dink Dawson joins Ann Delisi and Chef James Rigato to talk about how he learned to cook and run a restaurant while he was incarcerated.

Dink Dawson owns The GreenMile Grill in Detroit, a dream he nurtured while serving six and a half years at the Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater, MI.

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Dawson was working in the kitchen at Lakeland when he met Chef Jimmy Hill who runs the Food Tech Program at the prison. After an interview with Hill, Dawson was accepted into the program and for the next six years, learned everything an aspiring chef needs to know about cooking.

The program is intensive, with bookwork and kitchen training that demands perfection.

“If we did something wrong, he held us accountable,” Dawson says about Hill.

After being released from Lakeland, Dawson began cooking and selling food out of his apartment. Soon, he would realize a dream he had pursued during his years in prison.

“I had a prison journal. I had a three-year plan – in three years I wanted to open up a restaurant. I’m two years in and have a restaurant, and one pending,” says Dawson.

From day one, customers couldn’t get enough of Dawson’s cooking. Over the next few years, Dawson plans to build on the momentum and expand his operation into new restaurants.

“I approached it like I used to approach the drug game. I used to sell drugs in other states, other cities, and that’s how I’m looking at it,” says Dawson.

In This Episode

  • How Dink Dawson got into Chef Jimmy Hill’s culinary program at Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater, MI
  • How the Food Tech program prepared him for owning a restaurant
  • How his relationship with Chef Jimmy Hill changed when he was on parole
  • How selling drugs in the past makes him a better businessman now
  • The early success of The GreenMile Grill


Chef Jimmy Hill’s Culinary Program at Lakeland Correctional Facility Enters Its 30th Year

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  • Ann Delisi
    Ann Delisi hosts Essential Music, the Essential Conversations podcast series and the Essential Cooking broadcast and podcast. Born and raised in the Motor City, Ann is a broadcaster, interviewer, producer, music host, storyteller and proud Detroiter.