Last night I had dinner with friends at an iconic Singapore restaurant. A woman had a dream that began over thirty years ago in a Hawker Centre. Her stand then had no sign, just customers who remembered and referred others. The reputation of “no signboard” grew and the dream’s potential began to take shape. There are many stories as to why the original location was chosen, however neighbors with a sterling reputation is unlikely to be one of them. The location is in the heart of one of Singapore’s designated red-light districts.
The quality of the food continues to draw customers from all walks of life. Last night was a sell-out. Different tables were filled with blue-collar workers, young professionals, and multi-generational families. The setting could raise a few questions with the rustic (cheap but functional?) ambiance in the middle of dodgy pubs, questionable hotels, and spas catering to cultural preferences. Some guests that where coming for the first time questioned the location and setting. I suggested they reserve their comments until after the meal.
The service was good, waiters and support staff hustling with the crowd and rainstorm. The setting outdoors could have been a problem, yet this team made it an integral part of a great experience. The food was wonderful. When you put it together with good friends and conversation, it was an evening to remember.
I wonder what the naysayers said when they started. I can imagine a wise old man sending them a note of encouragement and clarification; “I wrote you in my earlier letter that you shouldn’t make yourselves at home among the sexually promiscuous. I didn’t mean that you should have nothing at all to do with outsiders of that sort. Or with crooks, whether blue or white-collar. Or with spiritual phonies, for that matter. You’d have to leave the world entirely to do that!” (1 Corinthians 5.9, 10)
No Signboard is a constructive engagement model. It offers an example of how to extend one’s participation with their community. Going beyond one’s comfort zone is an invitation to more.