Last Updated: June 17, 2019
When you order a meal from APSN Cafe for All, what you’re getting is not just any regular meal. This plate of food has been prepared and cooked with love by adults with special needs, then served up to your table.
What APSN Cafe for All is doing is truly heartwarming and inspiring.
Located at Kembangan-Chai Chee Community Hub in Eunos, this cafe gives adults with special needs a chance to learn how to prepare, cook and serve food to customers. This is done in a supportive environment, with proper training and trained instructors.
The aim is to eventually land them jobs at a regular restaurant or cafe so that they can assimilate into society, just like any one of us.
For those who might not know, Association for Persons with Special Needs (APSN) is a social service organisation that gives special education and vocational training to persons with mild intellectual disability with an IQ between 50 – 70.
There are four APSN schools for students between 7 – 21 years old, an APSN Student Care Centre, and an APSN Centre for Adults (CFA) for those aged 16 and above, and Alumni Services.
More significantly, APSN CFA provides realistic on-the-job training before they are ready for the workforce. The centre caters realistic work training in seven domains of Bakery, Cafe, Catering, Contract Work, Horticulture, Retail and Building & Maintenance.
The proceeds from APSN CFA’s enterprises are channelled back to support the individual APSN’s programmes, as well as to give the trainees an allowance.
When I stepped into APSN Cafe for All, I was immediately greeted with a warm welcome by the cheerful trainees.
Gazing around the large and bright cafe, I noticed that its menu had been drawn on the wall using chalk. I felt like I was transported to a cosy school canteen!
Prior to its partnership with ASTONS Express, APSN Cafe for All had its own menu, dishing out fusion dishes such as Spaghetti Ala Melayu (S$4) and Fish and Fries (S$6).
Now, it has a streamlined menu that offers a mix of both menus — from ASTONS Express’ ever-popular Chargrilled Chicken (S$8.50) to APSN Cafe for All’s own Hebi Hiam Spaghetti (S$6).
APSN Cafe for All also has a Pay-It-Forward initiative, where customers can chip in S$12 and pay for someone else’s meal.
I found the initiative incredibly meaningful. It allows the average Singaporean to do a kind deed, which will ripple across society in a good way. Just look at the number of post-its on the wall!
Trainees will be assessed to see if they’re ready to work at full-fledged ASTONS Specialities’ restaurants. If they’re not ready, they will continue working at APSN Cafe for All, learning through hands-on experience, until they hit their learning milestones. Then, they will land a definitive job at ASTONS Specialities.
Lim Yi Xiang, 28, is now working at ASTONS Specialties. He still occasionally comes back to APSN Cafe for All to volunteer, and loves to spend time by the grill, cooking up crowd favourites such as Black Pepper Chicken (S$8.50).
Instructors like Mr Eric Choo are present to help the trainees along with their tasks, which can range from kitchen duties such as cooking, deep frying, making coffee to serving dishes and taking orders.
The instructors’ roles cover more than just mere culinary work — they’re also in charge of the trainees and impart social skills to them. When I was in the kitchen, I constantly heard friendly reminders such as, “Angie, please say ‘excuse me!'” or “Zulfadly, where’s your cap?”
These reminders, as well as the instructors’ helpful and positive attitude, go a long way in instilling responsibility and accountability in these adults with special needs.
There are also useful tools and helpful reminders placed around the cafe to aid in their learning. For example, timers such as these help to remind the trainees when fries, nuggets, and meat are done.
There are also other helpful reminders, such as posters and labelled pictures that teach the trainees the importance of cleaning tables and wiping down the kitchen counter.
As I watched APSN trainee Mohamed Zulfadly Bin Rozali, 33, pour a generous amount of black pepper sauce on a plate of prime sirloin steak, I couldn’t help but feel that the entire kitchen emitted such positive vibes.
Everyone was hardworking, eager to learn, positive and helpful. Each of the trainees had an assigned task and they knew exactly what they needed to do.
They are determined to work hard and prove their worth to their instructors, their families and, ultimately, themselves despite their disability.
Unfortunately, the sad thing is that society nowadays is still a long way from being truly inclusive, especially when it comes to job applications.
APSN instructor Nur Suriani Binte Lamri agreed: “I think the main reason why potential employers are more resistant to employing our trainee is because they don’t understand our trainees and their abilities. Potential employers lack the experience and knowledge on how to deal with our trainees, for example, if they’re having a meltdown or need more help.”
I chatted with APSN trainee Mendoza Juan Gabriel Mercado, 22, for a while. He was super eager to share that, like me, he loves taking pictures.
In fact, he happily whipped out his old Nikon camera from his apron pocket to show me his avid love for photography. Meanwhile, his instructor, Ms Suriani, was playfully chiding him from behind with a “Gabriel! Why is that in your pocket!”
On top of that, he also learnt how to make coffee and was extremely excited to show off his milk-frothing skills.
His smile and laugh were incredibly infectious, and he made our entire team smile. This kind of pure, child-like innocence is hard to find nowadays and it made me want to give Gabriel a big hug.
The first dish we ordered was the Hebi Hiam Spaghetti (S$6), a dish under the APSN Cafe for All menu.
Generously mixed with spicy dried shrimp sambal, the hae bee hiam spaghetti was also topped with a soft sunny-side up.
I loved how the hae bee hiam added a tinge of spicy and salty flavours to the spaghetti.
While I felt that the dish could’ve used a bit of salt or soy sauce, I liked that they were generous with the dried shrimp. I really appreciated how the granular bits of sambal coated each pasta strand.
The second dish available under the APSN Cafe for All menu is the Nasi Lemak (Fish) (S$6).
What was particularly interesting about this dish was that the pile of rice was layered with cucumber and thin slices of egg. The nasi lemak was also served with a heap of sambal chilli, ikan bilis and fried fish.
The sambal chilli was as lethal as it looked! The spice hit my tongue and made my eyes water, but also made me want to go back for more.
I ended up mixing the sambal chilli directly into the rice, as well as the bits of fluffy fried fish so that every luscious bite had a tinge of heat from the chilli.
APSN Cafe for All has a streamlined menu from ASTONS Specialities, covering popular choices such as Black Pepper Chicken (S$8.50), Grilled Fish with Herb (S$9.50) and Prime Sirloin (S$14.90).
The Black Pepper Chicken (S$8.50) that was served was exactly the same as at ASTONS, down to the sides, and the shiny glaze of black pepper sauce.
APSN Cafe for All also sells cookies and cakes baked by the APSN Bakery Enterprise.
I absolutely loved its Nutella® Sea Salt Cookies which were gobsmackingly delicious. Liquid Nutella® chocolate oozed out of the cookie when I broke it in half, and the chocolate melted in my mouth the second I ate it.
I also loved how there was a tinge of saltiness from the sea salt that had been sprinkled on the cookie, giving each addictive bite a refreshing lift.
To support APSN’s CFA Bakery Enterprise, visit its website to view its full catalogue or to place an order.
When we were done with our meal, APSN trainee Hoe Hui Lee Angie, 33, came to clear our table.
She has a sassy and diva-like personality, which lit up the room. Her sincerity in wanting to know you, as well as her eagerness to serve everybody and ensure that all customers had a pleasant dining experience at the cafe, was as clear as day.
At the end of the shoot, we were even told that Angie had an interview with ASTONS that very day to see if she was ready to enter the workforce. How exciting!
The first thing I learnt about Kenny was that he had a great sense of humour.
When he introduced himself, the first thing that Kenny said was this: “My name is Kenny… Kenny Rogers.”
I burst out laughing after I realised that he was joking. His real name is Kenny Chen Zhao Ming and he is 33 years old this year.
Spending the day with the APSN Cafe for All team was really life-changing.
The trainees and instructors were brimming with so much positivity, happiness and kindness that the entire SETHLUI.com team left the cafe with little smiles on our faces.
Be it through a donation, volunteering, or visiting social cafes such as APSN Cafe for All, it’s great to know that as average Singaporeans, we can do our part to help the less fortunate.
Our Rating: 5 / 5
APSN Cafe For All
Kembangan-Chai Chee Community Hub, 11 Jalan Ubi, Block 4, #01-31, Singapore 409074
Kembangan-Chai Chee Community Hub, 11 Jalan Ubi, Block 4, #01-31, Singapore 409074