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Dine at these restaurants and support a good cause

More eateries that are social enterprises are opening to provide training and jobs for marginalised people

A new crop of social enterprise eateries has sprung up in the past 10 months, providing training and employment opportunities and raising funds to support marginalised groups, such as those with special needs and medical conditions.

Newcomers include the Art Bar and Soul Food, which opened in the last quarter of last year in Enabling Village, a community space in Lengkok Bahru that is dedicated to integrating disabled people into society.

There is also New Rasa Singapura, a 75-seat restaurant-bar in Tanglin Post Office that opened in November last year, and Qita In The Park, a cafe-cum-retail shop in Hong Lim Park, which opened in March last year.

Balancing the fine line between doing good and ensuring business viability has taken a toll on some food social enterprises, which have since folded. They include Kampung @ Simpang Bedok hawker centre, which closed in 2013.

However, this has not deterred other social enterprise eateries from opening.

  • Where to eat and do good

  • Art Bar

    What: Chill out over a Cafe Americano (from $2.90), Cafe Mocha (from $4) and other drinks such as Milo Smoothie ($4.50) and Ribena Freeze ($3). Pair these drinks with cookies, brownies and muffins (from $2).

    Where: The Art Faculty By Pathlight, 01-07 Enabling Village, 20 Lengkok Bahru

    Open: 9am to 8pm, Monday to Saturday, closed on Sunday

    Info: Call 6513-0706 or go to www.facebook.com/theartfaculty

    New Rasa Singapura

    What: Serves dishes such as beef rendang ($14), mutton soup ($14), black pepper char kway teow ($12) and dry laksa ($12).

    Where: B1-02 Tanglin Post Office 56 Tanglin Road

    Open: noon to 3pm; 5 to 10pm daily except Tuesday, closed on Tuesday

    Info: Call 9818-8102 or go to www.hawker.com.sg

    Qita In The Park

    What: Popular picks include toast with housemade kaya, made from fresh coconut milk (from $2) and coffee beverages such as espresso and long black (from $2.50). Lunch sets include Kampong Chicken Curry ($8.50).

    Where: 20 Upper Pickering Street, Telok Ayer Hong Lim Green Community Centre

    Open: 7.30am to 6pm, weekday; 9am to 3pm, Saturday, closed on Sunday.

    Info: Call 6225-4318 or go to projectqita.com

    Soul Food

    What: Tuck into three-course set lunch menus ($25 to $30) with main courses such as barbecue prime pork ribs, chicken cacciatore with Mediterranean rice and stewed beef medallions.

    Sides include minestrone soup, apple crumble and chocolate cake with cherries. Set menus change every two days.

    Where: 01-10 Enabling Village, 20 Lengkok Bahru

    Open: noon to 2.30pm, weekdays (weekday dinners and Saturdays are reserved for private functions), closed on Sunday

    Info: Call 6472-0266 or go to www.facebook.com/Soul-Food-Enterprise-Pte-Ltd-286503891431586

New Rasa Singapura is named after the now-defunct Rasa Singapura Food Centre off Tanglin Road, and the restaurant serves local dishes such as beef rendang, chicken rice and mutton soup.

Co-owner Josephine Ng, 47, says she was encouraged by the success of her first social enterprise, Alteration Initiative, a chain of clothing alteration shops.

It employs disadvantaged women as seamstresses.

On opening a restaurant, she says: "We want to go into a trade that is inclusive and can reach more beneficiaries.

"Operating a food business involves a wider range of work, from cleaning to food preparation."

She hires people who face difficulties in finding long-term employment, including those who are recovering from medical conditions such as depression.

"We are flexible about carving up the work to fit the capabilities of the beneficiaries," she says.

She now has seven kitchen staff. Those with mobility issues can sit down to work and also choose their working hours so they can travel during off-peak hours.

Mr Gerald Png, 57, left his retail marketing and advertising career to set up Soul Food in 2008. It is a modern European restaurant that aims to train youth with learning disabilities in life skills.

He was spurred on by his daughter, Cheryl, who has a learning disability and is interested in cooking.

Now 23, she is one of the seven kitchen staff. She cooks and also serves food in the 40-seat restaurant.

The restaurant reopened in October last year in a 2,000 sq ft space at the Enabling Village and it is now double the size of the original shop in Commonwealth Drive, which used to operate by reservations only. It now opens for lunch on weekdays.

In the larger space, he can accommodate about a dozen trainee cooks and commercial equipment such as blast freezers.

He says: "The staff can have the opportunity to use the equipment, which is similar to what larger restaurants use."

Another Enabling Village tenant is The Art Faculty By Pathlight. This is a retail space that sells merchandise bearing artworks by the special needs community, and houses an Art Bar.

The training bar is a community project by coffee chain Starbucks Singapore and the Autism Resource Centre (ARC).

The month-old bar trains young adults with autism to operate the point-of-sale system and to work the coffee-making machine, among other skills.

This is the second outlet. The first opened in Pathlight School in Ang Mo Kio two years ago and has trained 15 youths, 10 of whom are working in Starbucks outlets now.

Ms Denise Phua, mayor of Central Singapore District who is also the president of ARC, says: "Our clients get exposed to a setting that is closer to real life.

"They work longer hours and meet customers from all walks of life, so they learn to be more adaptable."

To ensure business sustainability, the business owners are diversifying revenue streams by making their venues available for hire for private and corporate events.

New Rasa Singapura's Ms Ng says: "It is difficult to succeed on my own.

"By working with individuals and public and private organisations, I will have a greater chance of making it a venue for good food and doing good."

To attract more people to visit Qita In The Park, owner Genevieve Tan-McCully, 53, expanded her menu to offer set lunches, instead of just serving coffee and light bites.

The corporate lawyer says: "Singaporeans are too busy to visit a shop to browse only.

"With a fuller menu, I can target the office crowd during lunchtime."

Her store sells artworks and merchandise such as cards and mugs made by those with special needs.

She buys them "at no or a slight discount to ensure a straightforward revenue flow".

She says in jest: "If they do not sell, my friends get nice presents for Christmas or their birthdays."

Remaining sustainable is a crucial part of running such social enterprises.

Laksania, which hires people with intellectual disabilities, closed three of its four outlets in the past two years as "sales could not keep up with increasing rental rates", its director, Ms Tay Su Yin, 28, says.

There is one remaining restaurant in Jem mall in Jurong, and she is focusing on catering.

She says: "The catering business is more suited to my staff, as they are more comfortable doing back-end food preparation work rather than trying to provide fast service that diners expect in the restaurants."

Perhaps the most successful social enterprise restaurant has been Western food restaurant chain Eighteen Chefs, which employs at-risk youth and former offenders.

It had a turnover of $20 million last year and will open its 10th outlet in Star Vista next week.

The first overseas outlet in "a neighbouring country" will also open this year. The chain's founder and chief creative officer, Mr Benny Se Teo, declines to reveal the country.

Mr Se Teo, 55, who is an ex-drug offender, says: "I want to show that a social enterprise need not have a mediocre image.

"With a strong business plan and top talent in management and cooking, social enterprises can be viable."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 10, 2016, with the headline 'Food for a cause Where to eat and do good'. Print Edition | Subscribe