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Talia Lee (left) and Qara Yoon started out as drinking buddies. But when God changed their lives, He also transformed their friendship and turned their goal to have fun into a mission that would change lives. All photos courtesy of Qara Yoon and Talia Lee.

Theirs was a friendship forged in the smoke-filled, alcohol-fuelled hallways of a KTV lounge.

Talia Lee owned the business with her then husband. Qara Yoon was a regular.

How they went from KTV to the kueh business is a story of friendship and redemption 15 years in the making.

“It was a small place and I tried to get to know all my customers,” said Talia, 53.

Chimed in Qara, 46, the chattier of the two: “I paid a lot of money to drink and sing there.”

This was two decades ago, but it might as well have been a lifetime.

They did not expect then that they would end up partners in a business that is a far cry from the pleasure dome of a KTV pub. Nor did they expect that they would be giving struggling women a way forward by looking back at tradition.

They certainly did not expect to be housemates with former drug addicts.

Qara and Talia have been friends for nearly two decades. It was Qara who brought Talia to church. In turn, when Talia’s marriages failed, Qara stood by her.

Talia and Qara now own a social enterprise called Yoon’s Social Kitchen that provides jobs to senior female ex-drug offenders.

The café-cum-cooking studio specialises in traditional Teochew kueh (steamed glutinous rice flour dumplings) as well as local, old-school delights like mee siam, lontong and fried Hokkien mee.

Intricately made Teochew kueh from Qara’s mother’s recipes are the specialty of Yoon’s Social Kitchen.

How the pair went from the KTV life to the kueh business is a story of friendship and redemption 15 years in the making.

(Read Talia’s story here.)

In church by accident

Qara’s encounter with God began in the mid-2000s.

Her sister knocked down a man on the way to pick up a friend. The man was, thankfully, not too badly hurt and her sister was given a fine. While the situation was being resolved, her friend’s mother, who was a Christian, prayed for her sister.

“The note said, ‘God wants me to tell you He loves you.’”

“So when my sister got away with a fine, we thought: Must thank the prayer warrior mother and thank God,” said Qara.

That was how she and her sister ended up going to church. Because Talia was a close friend, she was invited to join them as well.

“We attended the 5.30pm service because we were all drinkers. Could only wake up at that time.

“During worship, my sister teared. My reaction was – these people are very funny, all raising their hands.”

Qara (left) and Talia went to church together and each had their own encounter with God that changed their lives.

Qara remembers nothing of the sermon but everything else about what happened to her that day.

“The lady who sat next to me gave me a note. The note said, ‘God wants me to tell you He loves you.’

“At the time, I thought: Seow (crazy)! I threw the note away. But that was when the seed was planted.”

Qara was part of the security ministry in her church.

Inexplicably, Qara would return to church week after week with Talia in tow.

A year or two later, “the Word just dropped” in her, she said, and she realised that she had embraced the Christian faith.

Queen of kueh

Talia had her own faith journey that saw her end her KTV pub business and start a beauty training school for delinquent girls, which she ran for five years before working at The Turning Point between 2015 and 2019.

At the time, it was the only halfway house for female ex-offenders.

“I realised mature female ex-offenders needed four things to rehabilitate: A job, a good living environment, friends and family.”

In those years, her burden grew for women who had been left behind by society.

“In my four years at The Turning Point, I observed that there is a group of ladies who are at high risk of relapsing – the mature ex-drug offenders.

“I realised they needed four things to rehabilitate: A job, a good living environment, friends and family.”

While Talia saw the need, she could not see a solution.

Then Qara started selling Teochew kueh online in 2016.

Already busy with a job in the civil service, the business was more of a way to preserve and promote her mother’s traditional recipes than a source of income.

But Yoon’s Traditional Teochew Kueh became a stepping stone towards Yoon’s Social Kitchen.

Qara (right) convinced her mother (left) to be part of the kueh-making workshops at Yoon’s Social Kitchen.

Three years into the business, a major corporation approached Qara to conduct a Teochew kueh-making workshop. The class was a success.

Soon, they were running workshops for the public with a waiting list of over 100.


All the kueh kueh are made by hand from recipes Qara’s mother has perfected.

Said Qara: “We had always been looking for a profit-making entity to support the social cause that we had in mind – to help women 55 years and above who are drug overcomers and who are unskilled. This gave us the confidence.”

After much prayer, they decided to set up a social enterprise at which mature female ex-offenders could work. They would be taught to make traditional Teochew kueh, as well as help out at kueh-making workshops.

The decision was not without its cost.

Talia manages business development while Qara takes care of administrative matters and social media presence.

When Talia got divorced a second time, she had no home. Qara took her in.

For years, Talia had been saving up to buy her own BTO (Build to Order) flat. But when the idea for the social enterprise solidified, she channelled her BTO money into that instead. Qara also dug into her own savings. 

Then both quit their jobs to concentrate on the enterprise. On February 22, 2020, the pair dedicated Yoon’s Traditional Teochew Kueh, Cultural Concept Studio to God.

The kueh-making workshops help to fund the social enterprise.

But within months, Covid struck.

They were forced to focus on bento boxes rather than Teochew kuehs to remain viable. That became the beginning of the café they now run.

During Covid, the kueh enterprise pivoted to focus more on food.

Today, Yoon’s Social Kitchen is a café-cum-cooking studio. On the ground floor is where the female ex-offenders work. Above the unit is where Talia and Qara, as well as their workers, live. 

While Talia manages the business and training, Qara handles the administrative work and social media.

A community of support

The employees at Yoon’s Social Kitchen have different jobs – making kueh, preparing drinks and desserts, cooking and facilitating workshops. But they share similar stories – women dragged down by drugs, detained in prison, and discarded by their families and by society.

Among them is Ah Bern, their first employee.

Introduced to drugs in her kampung (village), she has been in and out of prison 12 times for drug-related offences. In all, she spent almost 50 years behind bars. She is in her 60s now and never married.

One of their beneficiaries being baptised.

Said Talia: “She has never even gone overseas before. Never even to JB (Johor Bahru, Malaysia). The only time she crossed the seas was to take a sampan (small boat) to buy drugs.”

Talia met her at The Turning Point and, when Yoon’s Social Kitchen opened, offered her a job.

Ah Bern showing her drinks-making skills.

Ah Bern now makes a mean tehsi peng (iced tea with milk) thanks to her experience as a barista – a job she had in between prison sentences.

“The only time she crossed the seas was to take a sampan (small boat) to buy drugs.”

“Our target beneficiaries are those 55 years and above. Most are uneducated, unskilled. So the only other jobs they can do is being cleaners,” said Talia.

“They go around on their own. No motivation. They become bored and begin to call their old friends. When old friends gather together and one falls (back into drugs), all fall.

“Some say they want to change, but when they go back to their families, there are unsettled issues. They have poor coping skills and they go back to drugs.”

In the four years that Ah Bern has been working at Yoon’s Social Kitchen, she has relapsed at least twice a year.

After each setback, Talia and Qara would send her to the National Addictions Management Services (NAMS) and then to The Turning Point.

A step to independence

The hope is that the women not only stay clean but can stand on their own. So apart from giving them a roof over their heads and a job, Talia and Qara also try to help the them start their own businesses.

(From left) Qara, her mum, one of their beneficiaries and Talia in the kitchen.

“The food we serve come from recipes we learnt from our beneficiaries. 

“In troubles, truly only He is the constant and pillar you can rely on.”

“But they have no ability to be stall owners or business owners on their own,” said Qara.

“So for those who are able, we help them look for sponsors to open up their own stall.”

In January this year, they helped one of their beneficiaries open an economy rice stall at an office staff canteen.

They visit her stall regularly to lend her a hand. When she is ready, they will turn the business entirely over to her.

“In the years of running the business, the Lord has humbled me,” Qara said quietly.

“Every time we are down in the pits and want to give up and just go back to full-time office job, He will send people, finances and open doors, lifting us up and drawing us nearer to Him with each ordeal.

“My verse throughout it all is Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

“In troubles, truly only He is the constant and pillar you can rely on.”


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Former drug addict and his prison officer brew new opportunities for ex-offenders

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About the author

Christine Leow

Christine believes there is always a story waiting to be told, which led to a career in MediaCorp News. Her idea of a perfect day involves a big mug of tea, a bigger muffin and a good book.