S’porean F&B boss scoffs at foreigner-hiring establishments

Posted on 01 April 2013

Somebody, please give Benny Se Teo a medal. This guy is one tough mother.


Who is Benny Se Teo?

He doesn’t hire foreigners in his restaurants. He was an ex-convict. He worked at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant in London. He is the founder and director of Eighteen Chefs, a chain of western food restaurants in Singapore. He trains and employs ex-convicts for the F&B industry.

Above all, this 52-year-old plays by his own rules.

His favourite quote? “I don’t want to be a chef, I want to be a good cook.”

How messed up was he?

Benny spent more than ten years of his life in and out of rehabilitation centres and prison because of his heroin problem.

In 1993, he started his life all over again at the age of 33, went for six job interviews and no one called him back because of his past.

Because of this experience, he promised himself that he would hire ex-convicts when he becomes a boss as he can relate to what they go through in society,

How did he end up in Jamie Oliver’s kitchen?

Long story short, at that time when he was still starting out after his prison stint, he read about Fifteen, Jamie Oliver’s restaurant that trains delinquents.

He met the CEO of the supporting foundation at a forum, someone named Liam Black, and begged for a chance to work in London.

Benny got rejected because London couldn’t take in foreigners like him but he persisted. The CEO relented, took him in — get this — provided Benny paid for his own accommodation, daily and travel expenses while in London.

And Benny worked for no pay. All for a chance to go to London to learn how Jamie Oliver does it.

Hence, as the story goes, his current Eighteen Chefs is an inspiration, tribute and legacy of Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen.

Was it all smooth sailing since his release from prison?

No, of course not. This isn’t Hollywood.

His last establishment was a 200-seater Chinese restaurant that hired 80 per cent ex-convicts. That was too hard to control and it went tits up.

Now his staff is a mix of professionals and about 35 per cent ex-convicts and delinquents, but he intends to increase that number.

So why the applause for Benny now?

On his now highly-viral Easter Sunday Facebook message, he made it plain and clear that he is a boss who does not rely on foreigners to run his business. And he is all about fair dealing and giving others a second chance.

This was what he wrote in his Facebook post:

Recently, I attended a dialogue session together with a group of bosses from the F&B establishment hosted by a MP . He repeatedly stress that the government is not going to open the tap for foreign workers and we have to innovate, think of ways to attain productivity…

I think i am the only one not affected by the labor crunch at the meeting. 😛

Not only that, he also wrote:

At Eighteen Chefs :
1) We pay our employees competitive salary .
2) 8 hours work day no split shift , anything more than that is consider OT X1.5 hourly .
3) Plan a career path for our workers .
example# 1 ..A single mum dishwasher is now my Asst. Manager
example# 2.. A hardcore drug addict is now my Head Chef
4) we go all out for our employees .
example# recently one of my boys got into trouble . His family gave up hope on him . I went to the station & bail him out for $10,000 . Engage legal aid for him .. I believe in this young lad …
5) The list goes on ……

And you know what? Screw the politics.

If you visit his Facebook profile, under his political views, it is clearly listed “PAP”.

He doesn’t fit into a mould? Damn right.

He clearly does whatever he thinks is right and sets shit upright.


All facts culled from here, here, here and here.

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- who has written 2685 posts on New Nation.

Wang Pei can be considered a new citizen of Singapore. She has been here all her life, just that her environment's changed beyond recognition.

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