Started as a food stall, Pope Jai Thai restaurant at Scape is a social enterprise that trains and hires eight different beneficiary groups of people (disabilities, special needs, mental health conditions, deaf/hard of hearing, visually impaired, vulnerable, disadvantaged, and youths-at-risk). So far, they have empowered 160 people.
The restaurant trains them in their specific roles through routine, protocols, peer mentoring, and tests. For example, if they prepare the food, the test includes a list of tasks like cutting basil or cutting spring onion to a precise measurement (5cm) or sharpening knives, etc.
What happens if they fail the test? Train again and retake it. Once they pass the test, they get a promotion and pay increment. I see this restaurant as a place for training, and the staff are all interns before they graduate and get full-paying jobs elsewhere.
The set-up of the restaurant is designed to be wheelchair friendly. The cashier-cum-receptionist who greeted us sits on a wheelchair. Some of their servers are deaf or hard of hearing so there are stickers on table, teaching customers basic hand signs to communicate with them. There are also signs that say NO DISCRIMINATION.
In the kitchen, there are some concessions to enable the staff. For instance, the chopping board is designed with metallic groves for visually impaired people. The rule is kitchen employees are socially distanced 1.5m apart not because of COVID, but to prevent mishaps from happening.
The kitchen, a place for knives and fire, is generally a dangerous place for everyone, so people with mental health conditions have to take psychiatric evaluations before being hired.
Even the cooks here aren’t Thai cooks; they are from the eight groups mentioned in the introduction. They are trained through peer mentoring.
To be honest, it may take some patience to eat here. We ordered two drinks, but were served only one. We mentioned the circumstance several times to the server whose reply was “it’s coming, coming.” (I’m not blaming anyone here; I’m merely recounting an incident factually. Remember most of them are in a sense trainees so give them chances to grow and learn.)
Although there are protocols and routines in place, some of them may find it hard to handle new, unfamiliar situations. In cases such as ours, you should approach the person-in-charge. In every shift, there is always someone in charge. That day, it was the disabled cashier. I think it’s cool that they eliminate the mindset that only able-bodied people can control the situation.
The food here is quite affordable; their prices can match with foodcourts’. Their dinner set which include a rice dish and a drink is priced at $8.50. That’s why many young adults and students come here.
Their a la menu is a little more expensive, comparable to Thai restaurants elsewhere. They recommended to us: red tom yum ($10 onwards); deep fried fish with mango salad ($24.80); pork collar ($15); garlic honey chicken ($12/$15); stir fried basil (from $12); tom yum fried rice (from $7.80).
Although in general the food tastes one-dimensional, and hence can get boring, it is passable. The red tom yum soup (seafood, $12/$15) is spicy without being sour or having any complexity. The deep fried garlic honey chicken ($12/$15), from chicken thigh, is just sweet although I can understand why students and children may like this. The Thai seafood fried rice ($8.80) has a definitive wok hei but no other taste. They should include sambal with it.
The best dish is indubitably the tender pork collar ($15), lovely deep burnt lines that give it a distinct smokiness.
We didn’t come here expecting the food to be mind-blowing. My partner puts it best, “It’s slightly below-average food, but for a good cause and at a good price.” The total bill came up to about $60 for two persons. Excluding a $50 voucher, we paid $10.
If we happen to be in the area and dunno what to eat or just want to eat something to fill our stomachs, we will definitely return to Pope Jai Thai.
Decor / ambience: 6.5/10
You may be interested in…
–Thai Restaurants at Northpoint: Sakon Thai and Sanook Kitchen
–Chalerm Thai, The Capitol Kempinski Hotel: Classic Thai Food
–Sawadee Thai Cuisine, Bugis: Excellent All-rounder
–Baan Ying Original Siam Kitchen, Royal Square @ Novena: 20 Year-Old Thai Restaurant Comes to Singapore
Written by Dr. A. Nathanael Ho.