Café Aurora’s power duo set to conquer PH dining scene with a ‘secret weapon’

Café Aurora’s power duo Chef Nicco Santos and Chef Quenee Vilar are set to dive into the deep end of the fine dining sphere with their new venture Celera, and they have vowed to bring with them the lessons they learned from operating their café.

In a recent interview with the Tatler, Chef Nicco said that one of the best lessons they learned from their successful operation was the value of caring for their employees, especially since they opened Café Aurora at the heels of the pandemic.


Chef Nicco said that it was originally one of the conditions set by their business partner Atty. Nilo Divina, which turned out to be so aligned with their own values.

“He really takes care of his employees, so moving forward, I also don’t want to open a restaurant anymore and not pay my people well. That was one of the most frustrating things I ever experienced. (Atty. Divina) was the one who said ‘ok chef, let’s pay the team better, let’s give them profit sharing, Let’s give them equity.’ All of these things. My ears were ringing because that has been my dream ever since Your Local. I just wanted a restaurant where everyone has some stake in the business, so they really get what they deserve,” he said.

Chef Quenee also vowed to ensure the well-being of the restaurant staff given that most people are still reeling from the long-term impact of the pandemic.

They are also nurturing the new batch of chefs they will be collaborating with for their next venture.

“Before they did not care much about the salary. Now, it’s the first thing they will ask. What are the benefits? Days off? Healthcare? It’s a pandemic thing. Oh, and it’s the first time I encountered the question: What’s the age group? When they’re too new, they lack experience and they don’t want that either. I felt that COVID really changed us. Work-life balance is really important now to everyone,” Chef Quenee said.