Innovation Park plants Seed of hope

L'Chaim Bistro is one of seven container restaurants opened at Seed@Social Innovation Park. The restaurant’s owner Amy Lee (centre) says the “tranquil location” and “unique container concept” of Seed are crucial in attracting the roughly 1,
L'Chaim Bistro is one of seven container restaurants opened at Seed@Social Innovation Park. The restaurant’s owner Amy Lee (centre) says the “tranquil location” and “unique container concept” of Seed are crucial in attracting the roughly 1,500 people that visit Seed each weekend. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Mr Macs Fong, 40, was jailed in 1998 for fighting and he considers himself lucky to have landed a job in the food and beverage industry after his release from prison.

To help other former convicts, he started a restaurant called Pump Station 1965, which serves fusion cuisine.

His establishment, which employs former convicts, is one of seven restaurants housed in refurbished shipping containers as part of the Social Entrepreneurship and Eco-park Development (Seed).

Seed, a five-minute walk from Rivieria LRT station in Punggol, is managed by Social Innovation Park (SIP), a not-for-profit organisation founded to support social entrepreneurs.

The restaurants, which opened last month, are social enterprises "committed to making the insignificant, significant through offering jobs to the marginalised", said SIP.

HELPING HAND

SIP helps us source for manpower from marginalised communities, as it works with organisations such as the Association of Woman for Action and Research (Aware) and Yellow Ribbon Project.

MS AMY LEE, owner of L'Chaim Bistro, on the assistance she has recieved from SIP.

Since it opened, about 1,500 people visit the restaurants every weekend.

SIP said it uses the rent from these restaurants to fund its own community-bonding activities.

While the rents of the containers are pegged at the market rate, the social enterprises are attracted to "SIP's aim to do good, which is aligned with our own", said Ms Amy Lee, who is in her 40s and owns L'Chaim Bistro, which has curry chicken as its signature dish.

She added that the "tranquil location" and "unique container concept" are also attractive factors.

"It is my dream to empower women to come out and work, especially those who are struggling, like single mothers," said Ms Lee, who has a 14-year-old son.

She is grateful that SIP is "very, very supportive" of social enterprise owners such as herself.

"SIP helps us source for manpower from marginalised communities, as it works with organisations such as the Association of Woman for Action and Research (Aware) and Yellow Ribbon Project," said Ms Lee.

Ms Jernell Tan, 25, a service crew member at L'Chaim Bistro, said many jobs could not accommodate her daily schedule, as she has to take her two children, aged five and three, to a childcare centre in the morning and pick them up at 5.30pm.

However, an Aware social worker introduced her to SIP, which then recommended her to L'Chaim Bistro.

Ms Tan said: "I am very glad L'Chaim is very flexible when it comes to my work schedule. I even told my kids excitedly, 'Mummy is going to work.'"

Other container restaurants at Seed are Boost@Banks, Leung Kee Healthy Dessert, Seoul Good, D'Grill and Big Fish Small Fish.

They support social causes including those which help communities such as mental illness patients and needy families.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2017, with the headline 'Innovation Park plants Seed of hope'. Print Edition | Subscribe