From gang squad to clay pots

 From gang squad to clay pots

SINGAPORE - At 12, he was once promised a good future by his gang leader.

It turned out to be an empty promise.

Mr Jabez Tan, 39, the founder of Soon Huat Bak Kut Teh, ended up going to jail for 13 years and being given 12 strokes of the cane for being involved in gang- and drug-related activities. After becoming a Christian in 1998 while in jail, his life turned around.

Mr Tan started Soon Huat Bak Kut Teh at Simpang Bedok last year.

The second outlet opened in MacPherson Road last Monday.

He hopes to use his business to change the lives of other ex-offenders and the less privileged by providing them jobs.

"Soon Huat is in the business of second chances. Eighty per cent of our staff are ex-offenders. They were once involved in drug trafficking, robberies, gang fights, and yet they find a chance to start life anew with Soon Huat," he said.

Mr Tan picked up cooking while in jail and would ask his mother to bring recipes for him whenever she visited.


He started out washing dishes and became a cook for condemned inmates after prison officers noticed his interest in cooking.

He was released in 2002, but decided to remain in a halfway house and busied himself with Bible school and Christian mission trips to prevent himself from going back to his old ways and friends.

In 2007, he met his Vietnamese wife, Joy, when the couple attended a missions training school here.

They married in 2010 and are now expecting their second child.

When asked about her husband's journey from prison to the kitchen, Mrs Tan, 29, said: "When we first met, he told me that in five years' time he would be different.

"And he did change, which is really a miracle."

She said that when her husband was first released, he "thought he was a good-for-nothing".

"But his eagerness to change and to learn really helped him," she said.

This article was published on April 21 in The New Paper.

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