Crowds turn up at Strangers' Reunion cafe to support cancer-stricken chef

Tables inside Strangers' Reunion cafe were full as of 12.45pm on Tuesday, Dec 8, 2015.
Tables inside Strangers' Reunion cafe were full as of 12.45pm on Tuesday, Dec 8, 2015.ST PHOTO: ANJALI RAGURAMAN
The queue outside Strangers' Reunion cafe at noon on Tuesday, Dec 8, 2015.
The queue outside Strangers' Reunion cafe at noon on Tuesday, Dec 8, 2015.ST PHOTO: ANJALI RAGURAMAN
Mr Kenneth Lai (centre) turned up at Strangers' Reunion cafe with his parents Tay Boh Hiong (left) and Lai Chie Kai.
Mr Kenneth Lai (centre) turned up at Strangers' Reunion cafe with his parents Tay Boh Hiong (left) and Lai Chie Kai.ST PHOTO: ANJALI RAGURAMAN
Kitchen staff at Strangers' Reunion on Tuesday, Dec 8, 2015.
Kitchen staff at Strangers' Reunion on Tuesday, Dec 8, 2015.ST PHOTO: ANJALI RAGURAMAN

SINGAPORE - Patrons showed up at Strangers' Reunion cafe at Kampong Bahru Road in droves on Tuesday (Dec 8), all wanting to help raise funds for its cancer-stricken head chef.

At noon, when the cafe opened, there was already a queue of about 30 people outside the cafe and by 12.45pm, it was full.

The cafe and its sister outlet Curious Palette in Prinsep Street are both usually closed on Tuesdays. But both will open on Tuesdays, with all staff volunteering to work free of charge, to help raise funds for head chef Sebastian Tan's costly cancer treatments

The two cafes will continue to open on Tuesdays until about $100,000 is raised.

 

The chef was diagnosed with stage four cancer, which has spread from one lung to the other, and also to his brain, bones and lymph nodes.

Chef Tan, a Malaysian citizen who has worked at the cafe since it opened in 2013, has no personal insurance.

Both outlets will be donating all the takings on Tuesdays to him.

Among those present was a group of healthcare professionals from the nearby Singapore General Hospital.

The group of five had seen a Facebook post by the cafe, which has since been shared over 1,500 times, about the chef's dire situation and the initiative to raise funds for him.

"Working in a hospital, we see these things first-hand with patients and we empathise with his situation," says Ms Maya Sofhiana, 25, a transplant coordinator.

The chef, who is 26, was diagnosed with lung cancer after he sprained his ankle during a basketball game with his colleagues, and suffered a relentless bout of hiccups.

Many of those in line to have a meal at the restaurant and contribute to the cafe's Save-A-Stranger initiative also had personal experiences with cancer.

Mr Kenneth Lai, a 31-year-old photographer, went there with his parents, both retirees.

He was moved by the chef's story. "My own grandmother died of cancer so I can understand his plight," he says.

The cafe's co-founder, Mr Ryan Kieran Tan, 30, hopes to accommodate everyone who comes through the doors today, even streamlining the menu and removing some items so that his team can get food out efficiently.

There are about seven staff at the front of house, and another five running the kitchen.

He says: "Based on the number of seats, I don't think we can accommodate so many people. We've stocked up as much as possible, but we'll see."

Some of the staff working the floor today no longer work at the cafe, but felt compelled to come back and help.

Ms Denise Tan, a student at Nanyang Technological University, left her job at the cafe last year to focus on her studies.

The 20-year-old says the chef is a very cheerful person, who likes to tease his colleagues. "He would make the situation less tense because it can get very stressful in an environment where people are waiting for their food," she says.

She says seeing both old and new staff helping out is heartwarming.

"I don't have enough money to donate so I just wanted to help in any way I can," she adds.