Cafes raise $20,000 in 1 day for chef with stage 4 cancer

Cafes raise $20,000 in 1 day for chef with stage 4 cancer
PHOTO: AsiaOne

SINGAPORE - Despite the drizzle outdoors, a steady stream of customers poured in to Curious Palette at Prinsep St on Tuesday afternoon.

Typically closed on Tuesdays, the 5-month-old cafe and its more established sister restaurant Strangers' Reunion were open on Dec 8 for a very special purpose.

The cafes, owned by 30-year-olds Ryan Tan and Mervin Pang, are rallying to raise funds for its head chef, Sebastian Tan, 26, who was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer which has affected his lungs, brain, bone and lymph nodes, according to reports.

The Malaysian chef had been working at Strangers' Reunion since its inception in 2013.

According to The Straits Times on Tuesday, by the time Strangers' Reunion cafe at Kampong Bahru opened its doors at 12pm, long queues had formed.

Over at Curious Palette, the place was bustling at about 1.45pm when AsiaOne visited. It was full house at the 120-200 seater cafe, with a short line of customers waiting to be seated.

A post by Instagram user kulikopi at about 1pm showed the queue extending outside the eatery.

One customer AsiaOne spoke to, financial consultant Ms Michelle Yeo, 34, who was at Curious Palette with a friend, said she had seen the Facebook appeal made by the cafe and decided to to lend her support. Judging by the crowd, many were probably there for the same reason.

Wait staff Fahmi, 23, who works part-time at the cafes and volunteered his time on Tuesday, said the crowd at Curious Palette was "even bigger than on some weekends".

Describing chef Sebastian as "more than a colleague", he said "everyone just came together" when they knew about his condition.

Mr Philip Tan, 60, father of co-owner Ryan Tan, said most of the volunteers are part of the cafes' "alumni network" which the owners tapped on when the new initiative was launched. His son added that some chefs from other restaurants had even volunteered their time to work in the cafes' kitchens after their shift, "working all the way till midnight from 7am in the morning". 

The elder Tan, who was helping out at Curious Palette on Tuesday, said he has been overwhelmed by the response and "astonished by how warm and generous Singaporeans are". The Singapore Airlines pilot added that they were initially afraid that no one would come.

What started out as an appeal on their Instagram and Facebook pages directed at friends and regular customers has snowballed, with the Facebook post attracting more than 1.2k likes and being shared by bloggers and influencers on social media.

Mr Tan added that because the outlet is usually closed on Tuesdays, they were unprepared for the orders and some ingredients like eggs and bacon had run out and staff had to replenish them.

Visibly emotional at one point while talking about chef Sebastian, Mr Tan described the Johor native as a "wonderful boy" who's always caring and helpful. While heartened by the response, Mr Tan said the owners are careful to ensure the funds are managed in the right way and have declined to accept cheque donations at the moment.

As of now, the plan is to continue running the 'Save a Stranger' initiative for the remaining Tuesdays in December, with the target to raise about $100,000.

Besides 100 per cent of the proceeds going to the fund for chef Sebastian, co-owner Ryan Tan said the landlord for the Strangers' Reunion has also agreed to waive off the cafe's rental fees for the four days of December, while some vendors have also offered their support by donating their produce.

However, the entrepreneur and award-winning barista told AsiaOne that proceeds from Tuesday's sales and donations at both cafes totalled about $20,000, which is "20 per cent of the total initial fundraising target". He expressed hope that the publicity which the social media posts have generated can carry the drive through till the end of the month in order to meet their target, adding that Sebastian will continue to be employed by the cafe "as long as he wants to be".

candicec@sph.com.sg

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