Cafes raise about $40k for cancer-stricken chef

Strangers' Reunion and its sister cafe, Curious Palette, have not had a day off for three weeks and have raised about $40,000 - almost half of its goal of $100,000 - for its cancer-stricken head chef Sebastian Tan.

Since Dec 8, Mr Ryan Tan and Mr Mervin Pang have been keeping their two outlets in Kampong Bahru Road and Prinsep Street open on their usual rest day, Tuesday, to help fund the medical treatment of their 26-year-old Malaysian chef, who has Stage 4 lung cancer.

About 50 to 60 staff volunteers take turns to work for free in shifts and owners, managers and baristas have been clocking seven-day weeks and might have to work a few more, says Mr Ryan Tan, 30.

"Not only are we struggling because we don't have enough manpower or a day off at the cafes, but we also recently found out that Sebastian's treatments aren't going to be subsidised. So we're planning to stretch the campaign as long as we can and perhaps even increase our previous goal of $100,000 to cover the costs."

Both cafes have seen more business on Tuesdays, even more than during weekends. Most of the patrons have shown up to support Mr Sebastian Tan, who has been working at Strangers' Reunion for about 2½ years.

Mr Ryan Tan says: "It's really heartwarming to see Singaporeans being generous with their patronage, donations and sharing. Some of them even wrote notes of encouragement and came forward with medical referrals and advice."

Others in the food and beverage industry are also rallying behind the campaign.

Mr Andrew Yap, manager of Neon Pigeon in Keong Saik Road, and Mr Mark Graham Thomas, bar manager of Club 39 in Duxton Hill, organised Just One Shift II on Dec 21.

The event, which was held in Club 39 and supported by bartenders and alcohol sponsors, raised a total of $7,460.50.

"Many of us don't actually get the opportunity to help people directly, but this is that perfect chance. I didn't know chef Sebastian personally, but I knew if I contributed, it would go towards helping him," says Mr Tron Young, 33, associate manager of Jigger & Pony, a cocktail bar in Amoy Street, and chief editor of The Bar Awards. He attended the event after hearing about it.

Mr Thomas, 30, believes that "this has started the ball rolling for other bars and restaurants to participate in this fund-raising initiative".

Currently, hotel and restaurant group Unlisted Collection: is working with Strangers' Reunion to recreate some of the latter's dishes and drinks for sale at its own venues.

Confirmed participants include 5th Quarter, Bincho, Esquina, The Library, Pollen and Restaurant Ember.

Starting next month, proceeds from the special menu items will be consolidated into a fund for Mr Sebastian Tan.

Ms Denise Tan, 29, group marketing communications manager of Unlisted Collection:, says: "Once the hype is over, the support may start to wane, so from starting this, we hope it maintains awareness for his situation and to encourage further support."

The owners of Strangers' Reunion cafe are also planning other activities.

There will be a public fund-raiser-cum-opening party tomorrow at Curious Palette, called Save-A-Stranger Thank You Fund- raiser.

The celebration of the cafe's launch will double as a thank-you party for its volunteers, as well as the bartenders and sponsors of Just One Shift II.

Mr Ryan Tan says: "We have received some dodgy offers from other businesses to do some fundraising, but the guys from Just One Shift II have been genuine, so I really appreciate their help."

Another sister cafe, Strangers' At Work, is also contributing. For every cup of coffee sold at its outlet in The Arcade in Collyer Quay, $1 goes to Mr Sebastian Tan.

In addition, donation boxes have been placed at all three cafes. Its website, a- stranger, accepts contributions.

Mr Ryan Tan says: "I think people want to continue helping and will do so, given the right avenues. I will try my best to provide ways for them to help too. After all, we want to help people help Sebastian."

Mr Sebastian Tan is recuperating at home in Layang-Layang, Johor, after completing 10 sessions of radiotherapy, he says in a telephone inteview.

He had a quiet, "normal" Christmas with his family - "just like how we have dinner every day".

Save-A-Stranger Thank You Fund-raiser will be held at Curious Palette, 64 Prinsep Street, tomorrow, from 9pm till late.

This article was first published on Dec 28, 2015.
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