Bartenders to help cancer-stricken chef from Strangers' Reunion

The bar scene is coming together to help Sebastian Tan, head chef of Strangers' Reunion cafe, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.

When news broke last week of the chef's illness, Mr Andrew Yap, manager of Neon Pigeon, an izakaya (casual bar) in Keong Saik Road, and Mr Mark Graham Thomas , bar manager of Club 39 in Duxton Hill, decided the best way to help would be to get friends in the industry to make drinks for a good cause.

Called Just One Shift 2, the one-night-only event is on Dec 21 at Club 39 from 8pm until late. Twelve bartenders are taking turns to make drinks, with three bartenders "on duty" every hour. Each drink will be sold at $15.

The bartenders include Mr Stuart Danker from Sugarhall, Mr Jeremy Chua and Mr Zachary de Git from 28 Hong Kong Street, Mr Naz Arjuna from Bitters & Love and Ms Kino Soh from Fresh.

Besides bartenders, companies chipping in as alcohol and drinks sponsors include alcohol supplier SingBev and small batch alcohol supplier and consultancy Proof & Company.

Neither Mr Thomas nor Mr Yap knows the chef or owners of Strangers' Reunion personally.

They read about the Kampong Bahru cafe's fund-raising efforts on Facebook. Strangers' Reunion and its sister cafe Curious Palette in Prinsep Street, both of which are usually closed on Tuesdays, will open on that day. Takings will go towards paying for the chef's treatment and staff will work free on that day. The cafes will continue to do this until they raise about $100,000

The 26-year-old, who is from Johor, is receiving treatment there. He was diagnosed with cancer which had spread from one lung to the other and also to his brain, bones and lymph nodes.

"The industry is a small community - it doesn't matter if you're a chef or a bartender, we're all in the hospitality industry and in the same community," says Mr Yap, 41.

Mr Thomas, 30, says: "We're not just individual bars fighting for market share. We believe in giving help where it's needed."

The reason they are holding the event on a Monday is because it is a slower day for people working in the bar industry, who can then expend their manpower to help at the event. Besides making drinks, members of the industry will also help clear tables and serve drinks.

When asked, the bartenders involved all professed a desire to help a compatriot from the food and beverage community.

"We bartenders are not just here to work and party and not care about anything. We care about the industry and want to give back too," says Mr Jonathan Emmanuel, 24, bar supervisor at LongPlay in Haji Lane, who will be mixing drinks at the event.

Just One Shift 2 owes its name and concept to an annual New York-based fund-raising initiative started in 2013, where bartenders donate all their takings from one shift to Wine To Water, an organisation that gives needy people access to clean drinking water.

Mr Thomas organised a Singapore edition of Just One Shift in April last year.

Mr Ryan Kieran Tan, 30, co-founder of Strangers' Reunion, says he has not met Mr Yap or Mr Thomas yet, but adds that "it's a good thing if they really want to help and if it comes from the right place".

However, he is cautious of businesses who purport to raise money for the chef, but are actually "doing this from a marketing stance".

Without naming names, he says that there have been "a lot of restaurants" that say they want to do some form of fund-raising.

"They structure it in such a way that we don't know how much will go to chef Tan. It becomes like a marketing stunt instead," says Mr Tan, adding, however, that he cannot stop them from doing so.

Nonetheless, he is thankful for the sincere response that the cafe has received from the industry, with bakers and chefs coming forward to donate their baked goods and time in the kitchen to support the cafe's fund-raising efforts on Tuesdays.

Besides the overwhelming response that Strangers' Reunion and Curious Palette received last Tuesday, the first day of fund-raising started by the cafe, diners have been donating money on other days as well by paying more than what is stated on their bills.

There are donation boxes at both cafes too.

From today, those in the CBD can also contribute by visiting Strangers' Reunion's third outpost, Strangers' At Work at The Arcade in Collyer Quay. A sum of $1 from each cup of coffee purchased will go to the chef and there will be a donation box there too.

Mr Tan says that about $20,000 has been raised so far.

Worried that support might die down after the second week, especially with the busy Christmas period coming, he is brainstorming ways to keep the momentum going.

One way is to throw a fund-raising party with drinks on a Tuesday night.

He says: "It would be a bit more relaxing with everyone involved unwinding with music and alcohol. My staff have been pulling 13-hour shifts. They and my volunteers need a break. This way, they can have a party to look forward to and it can still support the fund."

This article was first published on Dec 14, 2015.
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