In 2002, following the business dictum, “Invest in what you know”, three young teachers set up a tuition centre called School of Thought. They focused on General Paper, English and Literature, for which there is the lucrative subjects for which there is unending demand by Singaporean students.
Then, a unit below their office on North Bridge Centre opened up for rent. Says one of the founding directors, Shiao-Yin Kuik, “We knew there would be traffic and we then joked about starting a restaurant. The more we joked, the more serious we became about setting up a restaurant.”
Kuik adds, “We always knew we were more than just a tuition centre. A restaurant would make a public statement that we were not just that. A restaurant would also serve as a neutral place to tell others about the causes we believe in.”
The three friends had always believed that book learning was not enough. They felt their students should get to know about global and local issues such as poverty, human rights and medical ethics. The trio were already channeling some of the profits from their school into a special fund to subsidise tuition for students from disadvantaged families.
After much conversation, Kuik’s two other directors agreed that a restaurant
would be the way to go. “We had no experience with the restaurant business and we knew the attrition rate. But as good teachers, we believed we could do it and we approached it in the same way we would advise our students to – research and plan,” says Kuik.
Serving up some food for thought
They seized the opportunity and opened their North Bridge Road outlet in 2007. The tiny café is directly opposite the National Library building, and has a friendly, bohemian air. It specializes in freshly-made gourmet salads and sandwiches, as well as delicious homemade cake.
This year, it was time for second helpings. The partners launched a bigger and more upmarket concept within the Singapore Art Museum on Queen Street. Their new bistro serves an all-day breakfast, as well as Asian fusion dishes like crispy curry chicken and spicy chilli fries, Szechuan pepper roast beef, and hoisin har cheong baby back ribs.
It was their tuition centre that provided inspiration for the name of their restaurants which they called Food For Thought. Kuik explains that they funded the second outlet with money from the tuition centre, as well as a bank loan. “If you play it safe, you don’t test your limits. You need to once in a while, take a leap of faith.”
The world on a plate
As diners enjoy the freshly-cooked food dished up by the resident chefs, they can read literature and displays on community issues affecting Singapore and the world. By simply enjoying a meal they are contributing to five different causes, including fair education, protecting the environment and encouraging kind acts. Staff tips and salary support nine children adopted on a World Vision plan.
Global issues become clear with a simple glass of water. The menu invites a voluntary donation to Living Water International, a US based organisation provides clean water to those in need in countries like Kenya, Angola, India and Sierra Leone; “For every $2 you donate to enjoy a free flow of water at Food For Thought, you will bless one African for one year with that same privilege.”
High-quality, socially conscious products are available for purchase from the Queen Street restaurant, and the money goes to a scholarship fund for East Timorese children. To encourage kind acts, the restaurant runs competitions such as a photography competition about the clean water crisis, and events such as a book swap where secondhand books are re-packaged in a “pre-loved” collection and sold to benefit the needy.
Once again, Kuik and her two cohorts relied on research as well as the personal touch when it came to choosing the causes to support. A good reputation was important too, as in the case of World Vision. “We go down and meet the organisation. Other organisations we choose by faith as well as track record.”
As a teacher, and as a social entrepreneur, Kuik and her partners feel it’s vital to practice what they preach. When asked about their motivation behind their giving, she said, “In our tuition centre, we teach the kids that those who have more, need to help those who have less. We have to live up to what we say in the classroom.”…
For more information, please visit www.foodforthought.com.sg
This article was first published in SALT