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Serving up a new lease of life

1. He may be battle-hardened and stern, but Benny plays the role of a “big daddy”, in the words of one of his staff, Patrick. “He tells us about his past so that we don’t follow his footstep,” Patrick adds. So far, Benny has resorted to nothing more than a stern warning if any of them gives him trouble.

Serving up a new lease of life

25 July 2012

Text by Sheere Ng, Images by KF Seetoh @ Makansutra

“I’m selling food, I’m not selling a story,” explains Mr Benny Se Teo, founder of Eighteen Chefs, on why he doesn’t hire all young delinquents and ex-convicts even though it is his personal goal to cast a lifeline out for these people. Only 15 out of his 54 staff are ex-convicts, says Mr Se Teo, as he needs professional cooks to sell good quality food. The more ex-convicts he hires, he radicalises, the more time he has to spend managing them rather than the business. It is this pragmatism that brought about the success of the three restaurants that he owns and set up over the last five years. He is currently in discussion with a Malaysian partner to set up franchise outlets in Kuala Lumpur.

This man has come a long way with the battle scars to show for it – 11 years in and out of prison, near bankruptcies and his restaurant’s burglary masterminded by the people he was trying to give a second life to.

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