Photo: Straits Times
After suffering a stroke in July last year which affected the left side of his body, Mr Alan Gwee, 50, was jobless for six months.
Then he was hired by the Timbre Group to handle the front of house and bar of its new Five & 2 restaurant at Punggol Park.
His colleagues include two ex-inmates and a kidney patient who works on alternate days because he has to go for dialysis.
Five & 2 is the lifestyle group's latest venture. The casual bistro takes over the space vacated by Wild Oats in 97 Hougang Avenue 8 and seats 230 diners, including the laidback alfresco space facing the lake.
The eatery's employment policy is consistent with the social mission of the 12-year-old Timbre Group, which has been working with Score (Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises) for the past five years to hire ex-inmates.
The lifestyle group is also a member of raiSE (the Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise), which was set up in 2015 to develop the social enterprise sector in Singapore.
The five in the bistro's name Five & 2 refers to the restaurant giving one child a meal for every five meals sold and the two refers to its two social missions - feeding the underprivileged and giving meaningful employment to the marginalised.
To help minimise the physical workload and stress for employees such as Mr Gwee, Timbre Group's managing director Edward Chia is using technology to simplify jobs.
Five & 2's bar section has two automated drink dispensers from Italy that have pre-programmed cocktail concoctions.
One is for mocktails and the other for alcoholic cocktails. Staff members just have to press a button and add garnishes to complete the drink.
Cocktails include Whisky Lemak ($12), coconut and pandan-infused whisky, butterscotch liqueur and milk; Ang-Mo-Politan ($12) with Cointreau, Japanese cucumber-infused vodka, cranberry juice and calamansi juice; and Are You Nuts?! ($12) with pistachio-infused rum, chilli-infused syrup and calamansi juice.
Mocktails include Kelapa Bandung ($7) with rose syrup and coconut milk; ShowTime ($7) with kiwi syrup, popcorn syrup, calamansi juice and soda; and NoPaloma ($7) with grapefruit juice, calamansi juice and tonic.
Mr Gwee, who goes for physiotherapy on Mondays and clocks eight hours a day for work, says: "So far, I am coping with the technology. My main challenge now is trying to pull beer for customers.
"I was jobless, but I never gave up. My job is to keep on learning."
In the kitchen, meals are prepared sous vide.
There are also self-ordering and payment kiosks and the restaurant also continues the $1 deposit tray return practice - which is part of Timbre Group's Timbre+ food centre, and its recently opened Yishun Park Hawker Centre in Yishun Avenue 11.
Mr Chia, 33, says that if the automated drink dispensers work well at Five & 2, he will introduce them to his Timbre outlets as well.
He roped in chef-owner Willin Low of Wild Rocket at Mount Emily as a consultant for the menu and interior design. Chef Low, 45, ran Wild Oats in the same space for six years until it closed in June.
The menu features simple Asian-inspired dishes. Highlights include Thai green beef curry ($10.80); holy basil minced chicken stir-fry ($8.80); bulgogi Korean beef stew with onions ($9.80); and Sarawak curry chicken ($12.80).
There is also a small selection of pasta, side dishes and multi-grain rice ($2.50), which is a mix of barley, brown, white and black wild rice.
Mr Safari Ahmad, 50, an ex-inmate, has been working with the Timbre Group for almost two years and his job scope includes bartending and staff training.
The bachelor, who used to be a barber, says: "This is a good opportunity for me and I hope that other companies do the same to help us get jobs. Technology helps us, but what is important is that we help one another."
Mr Chia adds: "The machines are not meant to replace humans, but to make jobs simpler and create a less stressful environment. And everyone who comes to work with us comes with a clean slate."
Where: Punggol Park, 97 Hougang Avenue 8
Food with a social cause
What: The social enterprise provides training and creates employment opportunities for beneficiaries such as those with special needs, youth-at-risk, the hard-of-hearing or those with hearing or physical disabilities.
It runs a Thai restaurant called Pope Jai Thai as a platform to work with the beneficiaries and to raise social awareness.
Where: 03-03 Scape, 2 Orchard Link
Info: Call 6634-1238 or go to www.facebook.com/pg/Popejaithai
What: This bakery hires people with special needs and teaches them skills such as baking, packing and customer service.
Flour Power sells a variety of cakes, quiches, cupcakes and tarts.
Where: 01-01 PSL Building, 156 MacPherson Road
Info: Call 9362-1678 or go to flourpower.com.sg
What: Founded in 2015, Garcons serves affordable French cuisine at three outlets. About a third of its staff are ex-offenders and youth-at-risk.
Its latest outlet opened in Tanjong Katong Road and is the first under the brand to serve brunch alongside its signature dishes.
Where: Four Garcons outlets at 340 Tanjong Katong Road; Savourworld, 2 Science Park Drive; Timbre+, JTC LaunchPad @one-north, 73A Ayer Rajah Crescent; and Essen@The Pinnacle, 1 Cantonment Road
New Rasa Singapura
What: The restaurant specialises in local hawker delights and its employees include people with physical or intellectual disabilities, recovering stroke patients and mature vulnerable individuals.
Where: B1-02 Tanglin Post Office, 56 Tanglin Road
Info: Call 9818-8102 or go to www.hawker.com.sg
Really Good Goods
What: This is an online marketplace that sells food products produced by social enterprises in the region.
One of its products is socially conscious coffee from Timor Leste. The coffee beans are roasted by social enterprise Bettr Barista.
All profits from the coffee sales go to a school building fund for a Methodist school in Dili, Timor Leste. Prices start at $18 for 250g of single-origin coffee.
Where: Products also retail at OTC Cafe at the National Library, 100 Victoria Street; and Santa's Workshop @ The South Pole by South Beach and The Local People from Dec 15 to 17, noon to 10pm, at South Beach Avenue, 38 South Beach Road
What: Bettr Barista Coffee Academy, founded in 2011, was named Social Enterprise of the Year - taking top honours at the 2017 President's Challenge Social Enterprise Award ceremony last week.
So far, the firm has helped 70 women and youth by training them to be baristas.
Where: Outlets such as 04-01 (Coffee Academy), 9 Harrison Road; B1-25 Plaza Singapura (DBS), 68 Orchard Road; and Level 1 Income Centre, 75 Bras Basah Road
This article was first published on Straits Times.