One More Chance

Eighteen Chefs

8. Decent Work and Economic Growth 10. Reduced Inequalities 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities

Overview

Eighteen Chefs is a casual dining restaurant group in Singapore that hires ex-offenders and troubled youth to help them reintegrate back into the society by offering them a safe and non-judgemental working environment.

It was founded by Mr Benny Se Teo, a Singaporean secondary school dropout who spent more than a decade in and out of prison, for drug-related offences due to his heroin addiction.

Eighteen Chefs serves mainly Western cuisine with an Asian twist and extensive variety of dishes at affordable prices. They have successfully expanded to 14 restaurants across Singapore in 11 years with more than 400 employees.

Authors

Ryan Chan

Ryan Chan

Hwee Leng Ng

Hwee Leng Ng

School

Case Western Reserve University - Weatherhead School of Management

Case Western Reserve University - Weatherhead School of Management

Professor

Ron Fry

Ron Fry

Innovation

Eighteen Chefs is about providing a positive environment for ex-offenders and troubled youth to learn a life skill in the food and beverages industry, to equip them the means to earn their living and help to regain their self-confidence.

It has also created a space for its customers especially teenagers to contribute to a meaningful cause by dining at the outlets and a chance to interact with ex-offenders who are committed to turning over a new leaf. It is a common scene to see students clustered at its outlets with loud pop music in the background, interacting happily with the service staff eliciting warm hellos regardless of family background and past history.

Eighteen Chefs goes beyond a dining venue, as many of their customers who literally grow up with the restaurants with many fond memories from their teenage life are now regulars who patronise with their colleagues and families.

Passion for food is also Eighteen Chef’s core as they prepare all their dishes from scratch instead of using commercial mixes available to cut-short the food preparation process. They also look into the needs of customers, including time available for meals when designing the menu.

With a social mission of offering Eighteen Chefs as a platform for ex-offenders to reintegrate back to society, they have a very clear and defined objective since inception to offer job opportunities to ex-convicts who are keen to join the food and beverages (F&B) industry.

This innovative business approach has been proven and works well for Eighteen Chefs. They have not faced the major challenges in recruitment that many of their industry peers are currently facing with a shrinking foreign workforce for the service industry in Singapore over the past couple of years, thereby maintaining quality and productivity.

One More Chance

Inspiration

The idea of becoming a chef first occurred to Benny during his involvement in a “Love Turkey” mission trip to provide medical aid to the victims of the 1999 Marmara Earthquake in north-western Turkey.

He had not had any formal training prior to becoming chef, but had enjoyed food and thought of cooking as just a basic skill. However, the relief workers whom he cooked for during the mission trip had enjoyed his cooking tremendously and many of them encouraged him to venture into the food business. The idea of cooking as a business and as a means to hire ex-offenders was the main motivation for him to give up his highly profitable courier business to step into the food industry.

While working at the first restaurant as a chef, Benny came to learn of Jamie Oliver, the famous celebrity chef and the restaurant Fifteen which Jamie had set up in London to give the young unemployed a chance to work and learn cooking skills that would open up careers opportunities for them in F&B establishments.

Despite not meeting the requirements for apprenticeship, Benny’s desire to learn and persevere had finally won him a one-month internship at Fifteen.

The biggest lesson Benny learnt was the respect for food and the real meaning of passion when it comes to cooking. The attitude towards food and how the chef works with ingredients to create something wonderful for people to eat was what truly inspired him, and the same passion and belief is deeply ingrained in the culinary creations at Eighteen Chefs.

Overall impact

Now in its eleventh year of business, Benny has helped to promote Eighteen Chefs as a social leader in providing a platform for ex-offenders to reintegrate successfully into our society. They have also built a reputation for having sound business acumen, as well as providing high quality affordable food with innovative new dishes at convenient locations frequented by teenagers.

Business benefit

Eighteen Chefs’ passion for serving fast and quality food and their dedication to creating a space to hang out for the local youth has attracted and retained many loyal customers. These customers frequent Eighteen Chefs for its social mission and stay for the good value consistently delivered, thus enabling the business to stay profitable and grow, expanding into a group of 14 restaurants in Singapore in 11 years. There are also plans for making inroads overseas to invest into growing neighbouring economies for business expansion and to further develop the capabilities of the ex-offenders and troubled youth to take on management positions.

Social and environmental benefit

The steady and sterling profit growth at Eighteen Chefs has enabled Benny and his team to offer more opportunities to help ex-offenders, providing them with the necessary skills in the F&B industry, and a safe and non-judgemental environment for their career development.

Eighteen Chefs has many touching stories to share about their staff. For example, a single mother who started as a dishwasher with them has now progressed to be the Assistant Manager at one of the restaurant’s outlets. Another former addict is now the Head Chef at Eighteen Chefs.

Over the years, they have been able to find and maintain an optimal ratio of ex-offenders in the workforce to help integrate them back into the society. It is important that the ex-offenders are treated not just as employees, but also as beneficiaries; Eighteen Chefs helps to plan their career path by providing them with training and development opportunities.

In Benny’s own words: “When you hire an ex-offender or ex-addict, you are not just teaching a man to fish for his meal. You are teaching him how to own the pond for his future and you are taking care of his family too.” He invests a lot of his time and attention in providing ex-offenders with the skillsets and experience for life and developing the attitude that they need to succeed and win, despite a difficult past.

Benny firmly believes that “society may not have given me another chance at first, but I gave myself one. Enough people believed in me and now I can give others one more chance.”

Interview

Benny Se Teo, Co-Founder & Chief Creative Officer

Benny Se Teo, Co-Founder & Chief Creative Officer

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Eighteen Chefs

Eighteen Chefs

SG

Business Website: http://www.eighteenchefs.com/v2/

Year Founded: 2007

Number of Employees: 201 to 500

Eighteen Chefs is a casual dining restaurant group in Singapore that hires ex-offenders and troubled youth to help them reintegrate back into the society by offering them a safe and non-judgemental working environment.