Call to rally support for Crossings Café
Chiam Hui Ling (in blue jeans) with Executive Chef Aloysius Lim (in grey) and other members of Crossings Café.
Donned in her black uniform, Chiam Hui Ling warmly greets customers as they patronise Crossings Café, at Waterloo Street.
Hui Ling is one of nine special needs staff at the Catholic social enterprise. But undaunted she serves the customers and her approachable nature sets the tone for an enjoyable meal.
She joined Crossings in 2015 as part of the Bettr Barista internship programme, and the supportive environment at the café makes it feel like her second home. It gives her confidence and encouragement.
During peak periods, she sometimes has trouble multitasking and keeping up with the fast-paced requirements. “The other staff always support me and encourage me and it helps a lot,” she said.
Starting out as member of the service crew, Hui Ling has gone to working as a barista and making desserts.
The 25-year-old said she dreams of becoming a professional barista one day.
While there have been social enterprises that were not able to keep afloat, Crossings has thus far held out. However lately, there is a decrease in the number of patrons but the crew is enthusiastic and continues to give their best.
Though funded by Catholic donors, the café is expected to make ends meet and stand on its own. But there are months when balancing the books is a challenge.
The flow of customers is just not enough to make ends meet. But the staff still need to be paid, said Executive Chef Aloysius Lim.
Many of the café’s regular patrons still come by for lunch or tea. They have forged a bond with the staff. But beyond the peak hours, business goes into a lull.
Hence, the key element that has endeared the café to the faithful – to make profit for charitable and social causes in the Archdiocese – has temporarily ceased.
The staff is making efforts to meet the challenge to draw in more customers. One is an upcoming new menu which will feature a Franciscan burger by Friar John-Paul Tan.
Friar John-Paul invented his recipe over time after spending many of his formation years cooking for his fellow Friars.
“What goes into this burger is my own favourite spices and herbs; principally caraway seeds and smoked Spanish paprika.
The caraway seed gives it a middle eastern feel and the paprika is something European, or central European.
So, it’s a bit of a blend, something that you might taste in Moroccan or Middle Eastern cooking.”
Singaporeans take great pride and passion in their food and Fr John-Paul said he hopes his burger, with its unique blend of European spices, “can bring us to appreciate the deeper mystery of life and the exchange and interconnectedness of cultures,” he said.
Service staff Oh Hui Ting presenting the Franciscan Burger by Friar John-Paul Tan. Photo: CROSSINGS CAFE
The café is also actively trying to engage churches and Catholic organisations in an effort to bring in customers.
Despite the hurdles, the café will continue to practise its Catholic values and ethos, said Aloysius, 29.
One way this is done is through the café’s mission of providing employment opportunities, personal development and dignity for the disadvantaged so that they can have more paths in society.
Since its opening in 2013, Crossings has collaborated with Assumption Pathway School, a Catholic educational institution, and other culinary institutions to take on interns and graduates to work as servers, cooks and baristas.
To help the poor, the café has also adopted the “Pay It Forward” initiative where customers can purchase meal vouchers to leave on a blackboard for less fortunate strangers to use.
On the months of parish feast days, parishioners can enjoy a discount of their meal by simply informing the service crew.
Priests also show their support by frequenting the café.
Monsignor Francis Lau is often seen at Crossings enjoying the Barbecue Ribs with Sweet Potato Fries.
Scheut Missions Father Paul Staes pops by every Friday evening to make his signature Manhattan and Negroni Cocktails for those willing to try an alcoholic drink. The Belgian priest is the Spiritual Director of Crossings and has been making these drinks at the café since 2015.
Although the customers are sometimes few, Aloysius said he always try to keep spirits up and cheerful.
“It is a gathering place for the Catholic community and holds special meaning for many Catholics,” he said.
The service crew always approach customers with a smile to share the specials and strike up meaningful conversations.
The experiences and laughs shared will always make the food at the café that bit more special.
Crossings Café is located at the Catholic Centre and is open from 8am-10pm on weekdays. Opening hours on weekends and public holidays are from 10am-10pm.
For more information, visit its Facebook page, Crossings Café.