Love can be expressed in so many different ways, and for Geri Tan, it is about giving job opportunities for the people she care about.
For teachers and students at Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), Raffles Institution and Nanyang Girls, you would have noticed My NoNNa’s.
(Click PLAY for video highlights of My NoNNa’s.)
All the outlets serve up fuss-free, home-style Italian food such as pasta and pizzas. While SUTD has a sit-down café concept, the other two are canteen stalls popular with students.
Another aspect that people may not be aware of, is that My NoNNa’s is a social enterprise that hires people with special needs.
Chef-owner Geri employs staff who are autistic, have intellectual disabilities, or with physical disabilities including the wheelchair bound.
To be honest, this is a seldom talked-about subject in Singapore, and many people may not know how best to communicate with the staff there.
”Don’t look at their disabilities. Look at their abilities.” Geri proudly calls her staff “champions”.
There, I saw Jasnam and Gabriel working like brothers, doing tasks such as assembling the food, preparing the ingredients, doing the cleaning up and serving.
”Just look at their smiles. They are some genuinely happy when they are appreciated. The modern people… don’t smile that much anymore.”
That hit my heart a little.
It made me think about when the last time I was truly contented about very simple things in life, or when I last saw a crowd of joyful faces in the CBD.
As I thanks Jasnam for serving up the Roast Chicken, he gave a shy but endearing smile that made you feel so welcomed to the space.
Food-wise, My NoNNa’s Café at SUTD serves up dishes such as Oven Baked Pastas ($8.50); Italian Roast Chicken ($8.50); Italian Herb Pork ($8.50); Salads of Italian Roast Chicken on Quinoa ($9), Sundried Tomato Quinoa Salad ($9); and Desserts of Apple Crumble ($5) and Tiramisu ($5).
The students’ favourite here is the Mac & Cheese ($8.50) and it is not difficult to understand why.
It had creamy sauce that was not overly rich, chewy macaroni pieces, and was indeed gloriously cheesy.
My choice would go to home-styled Turkey and Ham Milanese ($9.50), of bread-crumbed meat rested on an addictive and tangy marinara sauce. The recipe was said to be from a real “Nonna” in Italy.
”From my ex-Italian boyfriend’s nonna!”, Gerri laughed.
The Italian Roast Chicken ($8.50) served with a choice of pasta, Italian rice or quinoa, was aromatic with a tasty light crisp on the skin.
My NoNNa’s Café chose to specialise in Italian dishes, also because the preparation process is relatively methodical and easier for staff with special needs to learn.
The staff is supervised by a store manager. Over at SUTD, you would find Vera in the kitchen, whom Geri described as “the epitome of patience”.
They have also implemented a new Butleric AI-powered POS & CRM members reward system to replace their current processes.
One important reason is the special implementation of voice recognition ordering to assist intellectually-challenged staff to place orders for customers.
They feel the proudest when the staff get a sense of independence and self-worth, because there are those who stay at home and eventually find it more difficult to integrate into society.
This is also opportunity for students to learn how to interact with people who may seem to be different from them.
And the younger ones never seem to have that much of a problem, but the adults who are often too task-oriented that they forget about slowing-down and truly communicating with others.
As I was having the delicious Tiramisu – which also means “cheer me up”, I ate it with a big smile.
I was proud of Jasnam, Gabriel, and all the staff there who did their best to perform their job; Geri whose big smile and bigger heart inspired me to want to do more.
That love, for food and other people in this world, is so amazing.
My NoNNa’s – SUTD
Singapore University of Technology and Design, Building 2, #01-203, 8 Somapah Road, Singapore 487372
Opening Hours: 9am – 9pm (Mon – Wed), 9am – 10pm (Thurs – Fri), Closed Sat – Sun
My NoNNa’s – RI
Raffles Institution Stall No. 14 (Year 5&6 Canteen) Bishan Street 21, Singapore 409051
My NoNNa’s – NGHS
Nanyang Girls High School Stall No. 7, 2 Linden Dr, Singapore 288683