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In the basement of GR.iD Mall is a food outlet just big enough for two small tables and a bar counter with a display drink chiller. Painted a deep turquoise, it shares a seating area with three other F&B stalls.
It was two on a Saturday afternoon, yet the only light came from a serving window to the kitchen. Inside, 46-year-old Steve Tan was packing food in compostable bento boxes while chef Melvyn Lee and staff were working quietly and quickly to prepare the meals.
They had received a call for help from a girls home earlier — the children had no food for dinner. Without a second thought, Steve closed the kitchen and the team started preparing the 50 meals needed. He later drove to the home and distributed the meals himself.
The store reopened at five for the evening crowd.
Making Live To Eat a reality
This is just one illustration of what Live To Eat is about. Founded in March by Steve and Melvyn, who is well known in the local foodie scene, the Asian fusion concept stall updates its menu every 60 days to promote diversity and inclusivity through food. Its current menu centres around customisable poke bowls.
Steve, who works as the operations director of the store, says that they founded Live To Eat because they wanted to do something different.
“We were discussing and thought ‘How nice it would be if we could change the menu to a different theme every 60 or even 30 days!’”
Caring for the environment
Steve explains to The Pride that while Live To Eat is a for-profit business, he and Melvyn wanted to give back to the environment and community through sustainable food practices and feeding the needy.
He says: “Right from the beginning, we made it a point to ensure our packaging is eco-friendly.”
Live To Eat uses compostable packaging for takeaway and delivery orders. To reduce reliance on single-use containers, Live To Eat works with Muuse to provide free reusables for patrons. Customers who bring their own reusable containers to the store also get a $1 discount off each meal they order.
In the kitchen, local produce is used as much as possible.
Says Steve: “Our first menu had a green theme. We dedicated 40 percent of the menu to veganism since it was for Earth Hour. All the ingredients for that menu were locally sourced.”
In general, Live To Eat sources about 90 percent of its menu from local suppliers. It only imports what is unavailable locally, like avocados for the current poke bowl menu. Steve also buys fresh ingredients from markets to avoid using frozen and processed items.
Helping the needy
Steve and his team also conducts weekly food distribution drives for children’s homes and needy households in rental flats.
This initiative resonates deeply with him because of his childhood — his family used to live in a rental flat.
He says: “One of my most unforgettable moments was when my mother had to borrow rice from our neighbour for dinner. That night, we drank hot water as soup.”
Steve grew up with three siblings. His father was the sole breadwinner and his mother was a housewife. So, like many other families then, they struggled to put food on the table.
“Back then, we didn’t have organisations like Giving.SG or Willing Hearts to help people like us,” says Steve.
That’s why he doesn’t turn away those who ask him for food; he doesn’t want to see anyone around him suffer the same food insecurity as he did.
He explains: “We’re running an F&B business. What better way to contribute to society than giving back in the form of meals?”
In fact, on the day they opened Live To Eat, Steve and his team closed the kitchen to do their first food distribution event at the Kembangan-Chai Chee Senior Activities Centre!
Says Steve: “We had so many families, friends and suppliers who wanted to send us congratulatory flowers on our opening day, but we turned them down.”
He explained to their supporters that flowers, while pretty, would eventually have to be thrown away, and suggested for them to fund meals for charity instead.
“We told everyone that rather than ordering flowers, to use the same amount of money to order food from us to distribute to those in need.”
Since opening, Live To Eat has distributed food to beneficiaries like Kembangan-Chai Chee Senior Activities Centre, Ghim Moh Active Aging Centre, Chen Su Lan Methodist Children’s Home, Ahuva Good Shepherd Children’s Home, Meiling Active Aging Centre and Bendemeer Active Aging Centre.
Says Steve: “I don’t want it to just be a commercial exercise, neither are we trying to be deliverymen. We don’t want to just give out bento boxes and leave. We want to actually engage them and talk.”
One bittersweet conversation that he had with an elderly man living alone in a rental flat stuck with him. The senior was grateful for the food, but shared sadly with Steve about how he missed his family.
Says Steve: “He told me, ‘如果给我送饭的人是我儿子就好’ (“how great would it be if it was actually my son who sent me this food”).”
“We can’t do everything, but small gestures like these and talking to them makes them less lonely.”
Steve also tries to introduce different cuisines to these needy families.
He explains: “They worked their entire lives to provide for their families. Many have never had the opportunity to dine in fancy restaurants or indulge in pricier food. What we want to do is to bring them food they have never tried so that they get to experience it at least once.”
While it was by chance that Live To Eat started distributing food to its beneficiaries, it was by choice that it continues to be active with its distribution drives.
“As long as there are donations and funds, we will do this on a weekly basis,” Steve says firmly.
He hopes to increase the reach of Live To Eat’s food distribution through individual and corporate sponsorships.
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“We cannot resolve food insecurity, but we know that we are at least making a difference for the people we help.”
If you would like to support Live To Eat in providing meals for their beneficiaries, please contact them at 8933 3473, email them at [email protected] to sponsor a meal at $10 per head. Any amount is acceptable but if you’re feeling generous, you can even sponsor 50 meals at $500!
Alternatively, you can also donate to their fundraiser on GIVE.asia here.