Welcome to Mad Roaster, a hawker coffee stall at Amoy Street Food Centre operating a “suspended coffee” scheme in Singapore.
If you’re unsure what the term means, it basically refers to paying for a few more coffees than you would need for yourself, which can be redeemed at any time by someone else who may need it.
The stall is run by Madeline Chan, 27, a lawyer who quit her position as a corporate litigator to help refugees in Thailand.
Here’s the story behind the stall.
Hawker Stall on Maxwell Road Offers Free Coffee and Toast To Help Refugees in Thailand
According to AsiaOne, Madeline graduated from law school back in 2015 and took up the position as a litigator. She represented firms to fight cases in court.
However, in 2019, an incident occurred at work, leading to a shift in mindset for Madeline about what she truly wanted in her career.
She said that she was in “quite a vulnerable position” as a result of the incident and that a lot of people had stood up for her during that time. The whole experience left her wanting to do something to fight for others in vulnerable positions as well.
Madeline pointed out that as a corporate lawyer, she did not feel that she was “stepping up for anyone who really needed the support as big companies have a lot of resources on their own”.
With this in mind, she decided to help refugees, and she began to look overseas for opportunities to do so.
She quit her job at the firm and moved to Bangkok, where she worked for a non-profit organisation by helping refugees apply for asylum.
Eventually, she planned to return to Singapore to settle down with her fiance, but she wished to continue the work that she had embarked on.
She came up with the idea of opening a coffee hawker stall while still in Bangkok. She visited numerous cafes in Bangkok and offered to work for free, but as labour costs in Thailand were already low, her offer was not deemed attractive.
Eventually, one cafe took her in as a trainee, and she began to work 14-hour days, shuttling between her law job and a trainee barista at the cafe.
Though it was extremely difficult and tiring for Madeline, she persisted, and eventually, when she returned to Singapore, she successfully set up Mad Roaster.
Through her coffee stall, she creates livelihoods for refugees by bringing in stickers pasted on her disposable cups of coffee.
These stickers are printed in Thailand and then transported over to Singapore; Madeline pays around 50 cents for each sticker.
The stickers come with a design of a geometric rooster that is hand-coloured by a refugee. The name and a brief description of the artists are also pasted on the back of the cup.
She said that she was searching for something that had “no barriers to entry”, hence the idea of colouring stickers came to mind as it was something that could be done by anyone.
Currently, Madeline’s stall sells about 100-120 cups a day, supporting 11 refugees who are paid around 3,000 baht (S$130) a month.
She wishes to push the number higher, saying that if not for work-from-home arrangements caused by the pandemic, she believes that the stall has the ability to support around 20 refugees.
She does not believe in donating a portion of the profit to refugees as she wishes to provide them with a stable income.
She explains that even if the stall makes a loss or does not receive any profit for a month, the refugees will still get paid for their work on the stickers. However, if she donates based on profits instead, the amount she donates will fluctuate based on the profit earned for that month.
She hopes that her efforts will allow families to rest assured and not have to worry about finances every month.
Mad Roaster currently employs one person and two volunteers, meaning that Madeline has to be on the ground rather often. When staff are not available, she calls on her parents to help.
Even though she is able to break even and pay the rent every month, she does not earn much profit from the business.
Madeline says that while her main focus is on helping refugees, she does not plan to drop law practice entirely.
She acknowledges that “[lawyering] pays the bills” and that it is “a useful skill” to have—it aided her in helping refugees with paperwork and applications when she was working in Thailand.
“Suspended coffee” Scheme to Pay it Forward
A former refugee was attracted to the intriguing concept of Madeline’s stall and decided to pay the stall a visit.
He expressed his wish to support the stall and gave the stall $50, telling them to “pay it forward for whoever else’s drink”.
And with that, the “suspended coffee” scheme was started.
According to Madeline, the response to this scheme has been “amazing”—the fund now has $500, with many people coming forward to donate and buy a drink for someone else.
Anyone can come forward to redeem a free coffee worth $4 or a slice of brioche worth $2.
The scheme is naturally meant for the less fortunate, but Madeline says that she is not prejudiced against anyone who may want to redeem a free coffee for themselves.
Kopi and Toast? More like Espresso and Brioche
Mad Roaster offers espresso-based coffees ranging from $2.80 for an Americano and $3.80 for a latte.
They also have cold brews and specials which include honey butter latte and matcha latte, priced at $4 each.
The brioche is priced at $2 per slice and can also be pre-ordered at $18 per loaf.
You can read a review of the food right here.
And if you’d like to check out this stall for yourself, here are the details:
Location: Mad Roaster, 7 Maxwell Road, #02-107, Amoy Street Food Centre, Singapore 069111
Opening hours: Mon to Fri 8am to 3pm, Sat 10am to 1pm, closed on Sun
Do stop by for a coffee and a slice of brioche, and maybe even make someone else’s day by ordering an extra serving.
Featured Image: Facebook (Mad Roaster)