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How Happy Ongpauco-Tiu made it on her own outside of parents’ Barrio Fiesta

MANILA, Philippines — SM Aura recently reopened its food court Food on Four, with celebrity chef and restaurateur Happy Ongpauco-Tiu launching her first ever Le Chon Prime food venture as one of the new dining options in the newly revamped food court.

In Food on Four, Ongpauco-Tiu’s Le Chon Prime sits alongside other big names such as Deli by Chef Chele, Kevin Ong Patisserie and Delimondo Café. She also runs the fine dining Filipino restaurant Tsokolateria that has a branch in SM Aura.

Apart from Le Chon Prime, Ongpauco-Tiu recently opened the new upscale Filipino dessert bar Dear Happy in Boracay. 

“Imagine Sapin-Sapin in Mochi or instead of the usual Mais Con Hielo, it’s Maja Blanca con Hielo. I have Bingsu Buko Pandan, I mean, happy take on the Filipino dessert. I opened one in Boracay but I plan to expand it in Manila also,” Happy shared in an exclusive interview with 

Happy owns the Happy Concept Group, which also has under its helm the restaurants Pamana, Tsokolateria, Bento Box, I Love Backyard BBQ, The Orinal Hawaiian BBQ, World Topps, Happy Platters, catering and private dining, The Boutique Bed & Breakfast, and the upscale entertaining line Happy Home.

Related:  ‘Le Chon’: Happy Ongpauco-Tiu marries Filipino lechon with French cooking

Although Happy is known to be actress Heart Evangelista’s cousin and the daughter of Barrio Fiesta group of restaurants owners Rod Ongpauco and Liberty Ilagan, Happy said in her profile on Happy Concept Group’s website that she persevered to achieve success independently.

“When I was growing up, I would be found playing at any of these Filipino restaurants - Barrio Fiesta, Bakahan at Manukan, Singing Cooks and Waiters Atbp., and Isdaan - which my parents, Rod Ongpauco and Liberty Ilagan, happened to own. These concept restaurants eventually became my workplace,” she began.

“At seven, I was billing out customers, and during summer I worked various jobs at any one of them. I learned the ropes of running a restaurant this way, and it was how I prepared to become a restaurateur like my parents, although my management style was not exactly like theirs.”

Though she studied to become a chef at the Culinary