She's the restaurant boss who stood by dishwasher with skin condition
Woman boss who defends employee with skin condition says companies should be kind to the needy
It was hardly a well-kept secret.
When The New Paper on Sunday wrote about an intolerant customer, who wanted a dishwasher suffering from a genetic skin condition fired over "health reasons", the report went viral online.
His employer stood by his side, saying she would rather lose the customer than lose 53-year-old Jimmy Wee.
Back then, Ms Sharon Guan Xue-er declined to be named because she did not want to be seen as trying to gain publicity for Mr Wee's plight.
Mr Wee suffers from neurofibromatosis, which causes thousands of tumours to grow on his face and body. It is not infectious.
The report, which was published on Nov 15, sparked a hunt by netizens to identify the restaurant as they wanted to "give business" to an ethical company. And they did.
Details of her restaurant, the Whampoa Keng Fish Head Steamboat's Rangoon Road outlet, were posted on Facebook. The restaurant's main branch is in Balestier Road.
Ms Guan, who runs the restaurants with a partner, said she was initially uncomfortable with the notion but was eventually persuaded by customers and the media to come forward.
The 54-year-old said in Mandarin: "I prefer not be identified, but it makes no difference now that we are named.
"I hope that by coming forward, we can convince others to be kind towards the unfortunate and the needy, and for companies not to discriminate in their hiring."
Ms Guan is in charge of all front-end operations at the restaurant, entertaining guests and taking orders.
Ms Guan hired Lok Wei Qiang (right) as a chef, after he was turned down by nine other employers.
The Singaporean is no stranger to hiring staff whom other businesses may reject. (See report below.)
As a getai singer, she frequently participates in events organised by Tanjong Pagar Community Centre to entertain residents at old folks' homes for free.
Early this year, Mr Wee approached Ms Guan after a friend recommended him to the job.
He was hired when a medical check-up showed that his condition will not affect customers.
His job was to clean dishes at the back of the restaurant, avoiding contact with customers.
That was his request, said Ms Guan.
But in March, a female customer called to complain after she saw Mr Wee cleaning dishes at the back of the restaurant.
TNP found out about this when Ms Guan shared the story with us over dinner - her usual way of chatting with customers.
When this reporter asked to write about Mr Wee three weeks ago, she immediately asked to leave her identity and her restaurant out of the report.
Ms Guan had said then: "I don't want others to think that I am trying to benefit from Jimmy's ill fate. It is his personal story to tell."
The report went viral overnight, with netizens sharing it more than a thousand times on social media.
Even publications in Malaysia and Taiwan picked up the story of Mr Wee, who has been living with the condition since he was diagnosed at the age of seven.
Several readers wrote to TNP to ask about the restaurant's identity but were turned down as per Ms Guan's wishes.
But that did not stop netizens from finding out and revealing the information online.
Since then, the restaurant has seen a small boost in business, though that could be attributed to other factors too, said Ms Guan.
She added: "It would be sad if people dismiss this as a publicity gimmick. Extra business is always good but that is not what I am after.
"I just want to use this opportunity to inform people that the unfortunate and the needy should not be cast aside or feared."
Mr Wee is overwhelmed by the amount of support he has received since TNP broke the story.
He said that the day after the report came out, some customers visited him at the back of the restaurant to offer words of support and encouragement.
He was also recognised in the train and on the streets. Strangers smiled, greeted him and thanked him for sharing his story.
Mr Wee said: "This is the first time something like that has happened to me. I am very happy that more people understand my condition better."
About that intolerant customer who had wanted him fired, Mr Wee had only one thing to say: "If she could be so mean to someone like me then I hope, for her sake, that she doesn't get sick."
I hope that by coming forward, we can convince others to be kind towards the unfortunate and the needy, and for companies not to discriminate in their hiring.
- Ms Sharon Guan Xue-er
BEING FAIR TO HER EMPLOYEES
JIMMY WEE, 53
Diagnosed with a form of neurofibromatosis when he was seven years old, Mr Wee found it difficult to look for jobs.
Neurofibromatosis is not infectious and consists of several types. While it can cause health complications to sufferers, Mr Wee said his condition is benign.
He works from 11am to 11pm daily, including the weekend peak periods, at the restaurant. The soap water does not affect him, he added.
But he does not venture into the front of the restaurant as he does not want to scare customers away.
CAI HUOMEI, 81
Vegetable prep cook
She needs a pacemaker to survive and uses an umbrella as a crutch to move around.
But Ms Sharon Guan Xue-er found a way to hire Madam Cai, who had been unemployed for nearly 20 years.
"She prepares vegetables in a comfortable environment. It is not a taxing job for her," said Ms Guan.
Ms Guan first met Madam Cai idling away at Pek Kio Market in the Serangoon Road area.
She said: "I kept seeing her sitting there, so I went to talk to her.
"Each time I saw her, I gave her $50 to buy food and essentials. Now, she has a job."
LOK WEI QIANG, 27
With 11 years of cooking experience, Mr Lok should not have any problems finding work.
But he believes that his large size - he weighs 156kg - made him unsuitable for working in small, crammed kitchens.
Prior to working for Ms Guan, Mr Lok was turned down for a chef position nine times - each time after the face-to-face interview.
To accommodate him, Ms Guan moved the kitchen equipment around to make more room.
"He is a very impressive chef and he learns quickly," she said of Mr Lok's work performance.
"I am very lucky to have employed him."
THE NEW PAPER ON SUNDAY, NOV 15