Former gang member now employs disadvantaged at PopeJai
PopeJai named the President's Challenge Youth Social Enterprise of the Year
From always getting into trouble with the law when he was younger, Mr Daniel Teh, 29, is now dedicating his life to making other people's lives better.
The founder and executive director of PopeJai - a food and beverage social enterprise - isa former gang member who spent time at a Reformative Training Centre due to his brushes with the law.
But he has since turned his life around.
He said: "It came to a point where I could either do something meaningful with my life or waste my life creating trouble."
In 2012, Mr Teh established PopeJai and the enterprise has grown to include three brands: Pope Jai Thai, a casual dining restaurant; Kopi Cart, a coffee cart service for events; and Tao Chew, a traditional Nanyang coffee training centre.
His efforts have paid off. PopeJai won the President's Challenge Youth Social Enterprise of the Year award last Tuesdayat a ceremony at the Istana.
Said Mr Teh: "I am happy and honoured to receive this award. It recognises the efforts we've made to raise awareness in society."
Ninety per cent of Mr Teh's 30-odd staff come from a range of disadvantaged groups - from at-risk youths to individuals with disabilities or mental health issues.
Mr Teh partners with agencies and voluntary welfare organisations to reach out to these individuals.
He requires his employees to only either have no prior working experience at all or have not worked in at least the last five years.
I could either do something meaningful with my life or waste my life creating trouble.PopeJai founder and executive director Daniel Teh
He said: "I want to provide a safety net for people who have an especially difficult time finding employment."
Mr Teh provides training for all of his beneficiaries, from a few months to a year.
He said: "Every one of them can work independently once they complete their training."
At Pope Jai Thai, Mr Teh's Thai dining establishment in *Scape, the staff do almost everything, from taking orders to kitchen preparation. Even workers who use wheelchairs deliver food to customers in the Orchard area as well.
He also customised tools to make processes smoother and more productive for his staff.
Mr Tay Ann Shun, an intellectually disabled kitchen helper, uses a customised chopping board that can help him gauge the length of the vegetables he cuts.
For deaf employees, bells light up instead of ringing to inform them to take an order.
Mr Teh said turnover rate is close to zero, although some well-trained workers do move on to other jobs.
He added: "I want to serve affordable comfort food in a safe and inclusive environment for my staff and guests.
"It also shows others that people with disabilities are reliable and can work independently."