Positive and Vibrant: A Day With Restaurateur Happy Ongpauco Tiu

The owner of the Happy Concept Group of Companies talks about memorable meals and boyfriend jeans on a hot date.

What time did you wake up today?
6 a.m.

What’s the first thing you usually do when you wake up?
I tend to the kids and prepare them for school.

What was for breakfast?
Coffee, a croissant, and homemade jam.

What does your closet look like?
Pretty organized.

Fashion staples?
A white tailored shirtdress.

Newest piece of clothing you’ve bought?
A caftan from Azucar and a Pucci dress on sale.

What are your favorite clothing brands?
Azucar, Rajo Laurel, Diane von Furstenberg, Pucci, Zara, and Massimo Dutti.

Jimmy Choo wedges and Vitti flats by samantha leather, a made to order local brand, because they are both so comfortable.

Pearls always add a touch of subtle elegance to any outfit.

What fragrance are you wearing?
I’m layering Jo Malone’s orange blossom and vintage gardenia.


Do you wear others?
One can never go wrong with Chanel No. 5.

Muses or style icons?
Grace Kelly because of her timeless style. She was so simple yet elegant.

Tell us about your regular fitness routines. How often?
I run after my three boys every day—i consider that enough of a workout!

Any specific diet you follow?
None. In my line of work it is impossible.

Other consuming passions?
Aside from my family, my work, and making people happy through their tummies.

People think of you as a wonderful hostess. How often do you entertain?
Quite often! I do a lot of research and development for work so i usually invite family and friends so I can practice on them. They are always willing to taste test for me.

What sort of entertaining? Formal? Casual?
Both, but always with a theme.


What are your favorite themes?
Filipino, Indian, and Spanish.

Entertaining staples?
Creative tablescapes and beautiful place settings.

Where do you shop for your entertaining wares?

Keys to a memorable meal or celebration?
Beautiful tablescapes, good food, and amazing company.

How do you prepare for an afternoon or evening of entertaining?
First, I conceptualize the theme and menu. A few days before the event, I marinate the meat so flavors are infused well. I arrange my flowers and tablescape the day before because I know I will be busy cooking on the day itself.

What’s your favorite meal to serve your guests?
Too many! This page won’t be enough.

Favorite drinks or other meal accompaniments?
Cava and Royal.

Dream dinner guests?
All my favorite chefs.

You studied to become a chef. What influenced your love for food?
My dream was always to be a chef and restaurateur. I grew up in that environment because my parents owned the Barrio Fiesta chain of restaurants, Bakahan at Manukan, and Singing Cooks and Waiters. Their restaurants were my playground and my happy place. Those memories inspired me and honed my love for food.

Tell us about your Happy Concept Group.
After culinary school, my dad wanted me to work for him but I took a leap of faith, ventured on my own, and formed Happy Concept Group. I maxed out my credit card to open my first restaurant called World Topps. With prayers and hard work, I got my return on investment in six months, rolled out my savings, and opened different concepts. Today, Happy Concept Group consists of 14 restaurants: five branches of Pamana, four branches of Hawaiian BBQ, two branches of I luv Backyard Grill, Tsokolateria Artisanal Café in Baguio and Tagaytay, and Bento Box. I also part-own a small bed-and-breakfast in tagaytay called the Boutique Bed and Breakfast, and Slim at Home, a home service slimming clinic that specializes in non-invasive treatments.

Aside from that, I have my Happy Carts, a kiddie food cart service that matches the themes of your parties. I also just launched private dining services that specialize in bespoke gatherings for small groups (from two to 40 guests), where I replicate how I entertain at home and even use my private collection of tableware and serveware. I am excited for this concept because now I can splurge on my plate collection without feeling guilty.

Are you venturing into anything new anytime soon?
At Mom Made, I’ll be manufacturing ready-to-cook healthy dishes without preservatives. I’m hoping to target the other busy moms out there whose goal is to feed their children delicious, enjoyable, and healthy food that’s easy to prepare.

What periodicals and magazines do you read regularly?
Yummy, Food, Appetite, F&B Report, Gourmet, Bon Appétit, and Saveur give me inspiration.

What music is on your playlist now?
Hi-5 songs, thanks to my kids.


What do you like most about your appearance? About yourself?
My smile and my happy disposition.

Lunch today: business or pleasure?
Work-related with my management team.

Where? What’s on the menu?
Pamana restaurant on Mother Ignacia Avenue in Quezon City. We’re having seafood paella with aligue, cebu lechon belly, and ginumis with homemade sugarcane ice cream.

Favorite restaurants?
I have so many—Manila’s food scene is on a roll.

Favorite chefs?
All the chefs in my restaurants, because they are so hard-working and loyal. I am so lucky to be working with them. Abroad, Andoni Luis Aduriz and Alain Ducasse. In the Philippines, Tony Boy Escalante, Margarita Forés, JP Anglo, and Josh Boutwood… We have too many amazing local chefs!

What else are you up to this afternoon?
I’m taking my two younger sons to the barber shop for a haircut.

What do you do assoon as you get home?
Kiss my kids.

What do you wear at home?
Shorts and a t-shirt.

Who was the prettiest person you saw today?
My mom, Liberty Ilagan.

Guilty pleasures?
Reese’s peanut butter cups and whipped cream.

Tell us about your family.
I have a very hard-working and loving husband and three amazing sons from whom i get inspiration for all that i do.

Best decision of your life?
Too many, and I’m very grateful.

Biggest mistake of your life?
So far, none.

Greatest extravagance?
Beautiful tableware are hard to resist—i palpitate whenever i see them!

Pet peeve?
Negative people. Lazy people.

Were you given any great advice today?
Explore the world and stay curious.

Have you dispensed any advice of your own?
There is always something to be thankful for. That’s the advice I give my children every day.

Who is your dream date?
My husband, of course!

What do you wear to a hot date?
Boyfriend jeans.

Qualities you like most in a man?
Faithful, honest, loving, kind, compassionate, and a true gentleman (just like my hubby).


Love of your life?
My four boys.

Where are you having dinner tonight? With whom?
Just at home, with my family.

What’s for dinner?
Thai food. I have to use up the ingredients I bought from a recent trip to Thailand while they’re still fresh.

Most memorable meal? What was on the menu?
Every meal at my dad’s place with family is memorable. He serves the best Filipino food—always a feast for the eyes and for the tummy! On the menu, boodle fight-style: homemade lechon de leche fresh off the traditional roaster (yes, my dad has one in his backyard), crispy pata salad (he invented the crispy pata, so I am proud to say that his is still the best), a scrumptious selection of grilled seafood, and leche flan con hielo.


What else are you up to tonight?
I have to finish a week’s worth of work tonight as i am leaving for boracay early tomorrow to visit my restaurants there and help out the team because it’s a long weekend.

What time are you going to sleep?

What do you hope to dream about?
Italy, brick-oven pizza, pasta, and gelato!

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 issue of Town&Country Philippines.

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Manica C. Tiglao
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