The boss of Indian Muslim restaurant Singapore Zam Zam saved for three years to take 27 of his staff to Mecca for their first umrah, or minor pilgrimage.
The man declined to be named or interviewed, but manager Zackeer Khan, who went on the trip, told The Straits Times yesterday that his boss did it to repay them for their years with the company.
The restaurant at 697-699, North Bridge Road was closed for 10 days from June 19 to June 28 as most of its staff had gone for the pilgrimage, which stretched over the last days of Ramadan and through Hari Raya Puasa.
Mr Khan, who has been manager at Zam Zam for almost six years, said that the company paid for all 28 travel visas, including the boss', as well as tickets and hotel accommodation for nine nights.
"We do this for our workers because they have worked very long and very hard for us," said Mr Khan.
The men who went included those in their 20s and a man in his 60s. All of them have worked for the company, which was founded in 1908, for five to 30 years, he said.
Mr Navas Koleth, 30, who has worked at Zam Zam for seven years, said he felt blessed.
DREAM COME TRUE
I am really happy to work here. It is very difficult to find a boss like this who can sponsor (our trips).
We are like a family...
It was our dream (to go for the umrah).
MR NAVAS KOLETH, who has worked at Zam Zam for seven years.
He said: "I am really happy to work here. It is very difficult to find a boss like this who can sponsor (our trips).
"We are like a family... It was our dream (to go for the umrah).
"Our restaurant usually does not close, and it is really difficult to get days off during Ramadan because we are so busy, so it was really surprising when my boss said he is going for umrah and that anyone who wants to come along can come."
Mr Khan said they chose to go during that period because of the special prayers held in Mecca. While he declined to say how much it cost, a check on five websites offering umrah packages shows that it costs upwards of $3,000 a person, or about $84,000 for all 28 men.
The umrah differs from the haj - a pilgrimage to Mecca - in that it can be performed at any time of the year. Some pilgrims take the umrah as a preparation for the haj.
Mr Khan said: "For the staff, it is their first time going for the umrah. They don't know if they will be going back. We must go in our lifetime, at least once."
The trip was very good, he said. The men donned Zam Zam vests and took along a Zam Zam banner, which they posed with for photos.
The restaurant reopened yesterday, and customers were happy to see them, Mr Khan said.
"Actually, we did not (publicise the event on Facebook) to let people know that we are very great. We just put the notice because we didn't want people from Johor and Tuas to come all the way and see that our shop was closed."
Zam Zam had put up the notice on its Facebook page on June 19.
When news broke that it was closing for its employees to go for the umrah, netizens applauded the move and wished them safe travel.