City News speaks with Don Wong, co-founder of New Soon Huat Bak Kut Teh, on its recent win at the inaugural President’s Challenge Social Enterprise Award.
By Annabelle Low
Statistics show that ex-offenders often turn back to crime due to a lack of opportunities and acceptance in society. New Soon Huat Bak Kut Teh was set up to put an end to that, one stomach at a time.
This eatery is a social enterprise co-founded by Jabez William Tan, 38, a former convict, with Mok Tuck Onn, 45, and director of The New Charis Mission, Don Wong, 52. New Soon Huat hires ex-offenders and former drug addicts with the aim of helping them reintegrate into the society. Tan, who was rehabilitated at TNCM, formerly served as a cook during his time in prison.
“We really want to bring hope and encouragement to the prisoners, to show them that it is possible to start a new life after being released from prison,” said Wong, who heads TNCM, a non-profit organization that provides a holistic rehabilitation program for ex-offenders and former drug addicts, focusing on personal growth, character development, restoration of relationships with family members and work therapy to help them break their bondage to drugs and return to society as responsible, useful citizens.
The crew at New Soon Huat is taught to be mindful that they are called to be shining examples in the marketplace. The owners encourage their workers to uphold a spirit of excellence. A business cannot survive on dreams, or compassion and sympathy alone, he said. To sustain a restaurant business, the food and service must be excellent in order to keep regular patrons coming back and to draw new customers.
In the two short years that New Soon Huat has existed, this work ethic has been the backbone of its success. This month, its spirit of excellence was nationally recognized: New Soon Huat beat three other businesses to be named Social Enterprise Start-Up of the Year at the inaugural President’s Challenge Social Enterprise Award. The restaurant received the award from President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing at the Istana on Dec. 6.
Since opening its doors in Jalan Kayu, the business has been a great success. New Soon Huat has gone on to open a second outlet at Ang Mo Kio in May. The owners have just signed the lease on their third outlet at Upper Serangoon Road.
Wong hopes that the business can evolve to adopt a profit-sharing model so that the ex-offenders on the team may one day become business owners.
“These people aren’t ordinary,” says Wong. “By God’s grace, they are extraordinary, living trophies of grace.”
New Soon Huat Bak Kut Teh is located at 257 Jalan Kayu and 532 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10.
To find out more about The New Charis Mission, go to http://www.thenewcharismission.org.sg/social-enterprise