“I wanted to do something where we could partner with customers to contribute to society. One day, I came across a video about a guy in New York who was a banker, but had quit his job to open a pizza parlour (Rosa’s Fresh Pizza) where he introduced the ‘Pay It Forward’ programme. So I was inspired to try that concept here in Malaysia.
We thought it would just be a small wall of vouchers. We didn’t expect that the whole wall would end up being filled with them! There was even a time that we stopped collecting new vouchers, until we had distributed all the meals to people in need.
I hire [ex-offenders] to work in kitchen roles...When I sit down with someone who wants to change, that look in their eyes is compelling enough.
Although I was not an ex-offender, I made many mistakes in the workplace in my early years. I once made a big mistake and absconded for a few months, but my boss kept a lookout for me and invited me back to work for him. That made an impact and I thought if this man could give me a chance, I should be able to do the same for someone else.
There was a man who walked into Charlie’s Cafe one Saturday and asked, 'Sir, can I get a meal from you? I’m jobless and I need a meal… actually, I need two. One for me, and one for my son.'
I said okay – no questions asked. Then he said, ‘Do you remember me? I once came here and bought a Pay It Forward voucher. But I made some bad decisions and am now in debt.’
Initially, he wanted to hide outside to have his meal but I told him not to do so as I wanted him to sit in like a customer, and eat like a customer.
I look back on this encounter and am glad that someone in his situation knew Charlie’s Cafe was a place where he could seek help in a time of need.”
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