Imagine some former convicts making a turnaround in life and managing a restaurant to eke out a decent a living! Well, a visit to Eighteen Chefs in Singapore will make you understand how an ex offender can set an example with his social enterprise.
A brainchild of Benny Se Teo (52), the Eighteen Chefs is a successful social enterprise which was set up in 2007. Himself an ex offender, Benny was in and out of prison four times because of heroin addiction between 1983 and 1993. Five years ago, while he was looking for a job and found it difficult to get one, he decided to combine his passion for cuisine with a desire to help those in similar situations.
Now in its fifth year, Eighteen Chefs has three outlets across Singapore with about 50 workers, about a third of whom are former convicts or former delinquents.
The restaurant has earned accolades even from Singapore President Tony Tan. Speaking highly of Benny’s initiative he said it was not possible the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports or a group of civil servants to sit down and think of everything. “You need to have ideas from the ground and where they are viable, they will receive support from the government,” the President added.
Benny said: “We strive to provide our customers with good quality food at an affordable price – freshly prepared and fast every time.” Without compromising service standards, it hopes each and every customer enjoys its unique ambience and is spoilt in a great variety of food choices.
“We wish to spread our saga of strength and vision to inspire troubled youths and former offers or convicts to find alternative ways to reintegrate into society,” says Benny.
The Eighteen Chefs has worked with other social agencies both locally and regionally to help create this awareness and to provide a platform for these group of people to realize their talents in the Food & Beverage industry. “We hope to expand beyond Singapore and make Eighteen Chefs a part of the lifestyle to the youths globally,” Benny says.