IronSupperClub – Serving Up A Special Mix of Empathy and Compromise

He opened one of the bar cabinets to take out something that seemed like green syrup and placed it on the tabletop.

He turned behind, grabbed a plastic knife, picked up a whole lime, and started slicing it.

Once that was done, he opened a jar of jelly topping and placed a spoonful on the serving tray.

Lee De Chun, 20, was demonstrating how to prepare an IronSupperClub’s signature drink called the Cucumber Fun Drink.

There was something organised and methodological to his movements in the kitchen – he was light on his feet and knew exactly what to do and when to do it.

But just then, De Chun paused for a moment. He placed his hand on his hip as if trying to pull himself together to remember which step he might have missed.

As quickly as he stopped, he started again. Moving not more than two steps to his left, he took a cup full of ice from the freezer.

“I know how to do a lot of drinks, but my favourite is to do the Cucumber Fun Drink,” he said.

Working with a Disability

De Chun, like many employees at the IronSupperClub, is a person with a disability.

At an early age, he was diagnosed with an intellectual disability. He also suffers from multiple medical issues such as food allergies, eczema flares and kidney problems. But those things don’t stop him from doing what he loves and being paid for it.

De Chun has been with the restaurant for two years now and currently works as a restaurant steward and a barista. His love for food surpasses the workplace.

When asked what he likes doing at home, De Chun said: “I like to watch Malay cooking shows on TV. I watch the TV, and I learn how to cook. Then when I come to work, the chef will teach me how to do it properly.”

In fact, De Chun often applies what he has learnt from the TV shows and the chef by cooking afternoon meals for his colleagues.

When another person with a disability walks in to start a new job at the restaurant, De Chun will be the one stepping up to mentor and train the new employee.

Empathy from Staff and Diners

IronSupperClub has been hiring persons with disabilities for the past two-and-a-half years. Today, about 45 per cent of its staff have special needs.

Bernard Chan, an operations consultant at IronSupperClub, said: “To run a restaurant with special needs employees, there has to be a lot of empathy from both staff and the diners. The efficiency and effectiveness of people with special needs are very different. But all of them are trying their very best.”

Bernard, however, made it clear that the restaurant doesn’t want patrons to come to the restaurant out of pity for the employees, stating that the restaurant serves quality food, and attempts to deliver quality service to its guests.

The restaurant recently won the Best Newcomer Award at this year’s Enabling Employers Awards (EEA) by SG Enable.

Hopes for the Future

Today, about three out of 10 people with disabilities are employed. And De Chun is part of that number.

“We realise that there is a gap in training and work opportunities for persons with disabilities. Once these people finish special education school, there is very minimal support for them. Sometimes, these schools help them find their first jobs. But if they resign or get terminated, the support stops there. That is why we are working hard to do our part to plug this gap,” said Bernard.

Empathy and a little compromise – those were the two key things Bernard said employers could start with.

“Every company can become a social enterprise by having an element of special needs employment. If this is done, we collectively can make a lot of difference and change many people’s lives,” he said.

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