Auro Chocolate Cafe in Bonifacio Global City (BGC) is a place that demands your attention. Not just for its colorful edifice, cathedral-like space, and amassed Filipino artisan products but also more for the kind of artistic inventory you would expect from Mark and Mia Ocampo.
As Mia puts it, “We wanted a whole space that can kind of have little snippets from all over the Philippines or have Filipino influence from around the world. We’re known for furniture and design, we’re known for different fiestas. So that’s something we wanted this space to represent and also with our food, too.”
A playground for Pinoy sensibilities
Auro Chocolate’s first brick and mortar on a quieter side of BGC is fitted and kitted out in Filipino ingenuity that you wouldn’t be surprised to see queues forming as early as 6:30 a.m. (prior to its 7 a.m. opening) looking to grab coffee with beans from Itogon, Benguet or a signature choc au lait.
It’s easy to get drawn into Auro Chocolate Cafe’s vision—after all, it is a showcase of food culture and local heritage—but just like the tree-to-bar chocolate brand’s rootedness in community-building and farmer-first initiatives, there’s an equally beautiful messaging at play in this new milestone for the Ocampos.
“I guess not a lot of people focus on growing horizontally. It’s always like expanding retail products but for us and also because of the pandemic, we’ve seen how creative people can get with chocolate and we wanted to ride on that creativity,” explains Mia Ocampo.
The cavernous cafe clearly cultivates this uniquely Filipino experience that’s already inherent in and reflective of their products, only this time it’s seamlessly translated into an immersive format. It doesn’t lack the gravitas that have solidified their chocolate bars’ status here and overseas. Yet at the same time, it’s not a mere byproduct of the award-winning chocolates.
This is a cafe soaked in surprises and one that consolidates Auro Chocolate’s position from retail to restaurant before approaching what could possibly be the peak of their potential. You could also say this move signifies the next logical step in any brand’s progression to get their point across to a wider audience.
“I guess not a lot of people focus on growing horizontally. It’s always like expanding retail products but for us and also because of the pandemic, we’ve seen how creative people can get with chocolate and we wanted to ride on that creativity,” explains Mia.
“That’s why we wanted to have the restaurant… to expand into other things that you can do with cacao.” Whether, Mia says, that’s a cacao ritual (a ceremony in which cacao is used as a healing modality for self-renewal) or holistic tree-to-bar-to-table experiences (from visiting the farms in Davao and the factory to incorporating cacao into and tasting the food in the cafe).
But for now, the cafe serves as an appetizing springboard for what lies ahead for Auro Chocolate. Flanked by parks on two fronts in an unassuming location of BGC, there are a lot of immediate references to Filipino art and culture scattered throughout. And the great thing about all of it is how boldly the co-founders unabashedly ran with it.
Auro Chocolate Cafe is a show of force
The tremendous space is divided into localities: a retail area that includes a collaboration station, pockets of indoor dining, and al fresco seating—all of which are awash in tropical colors and multi-textured wallpapers, local materials and traditional techniques curated under the watchful eye of Mark and the rest of the Auro team. It’s impossible not to feel buoyed by the bright Filipino sentiment they are going for in a world that has felt despairing in the last couple of years.
From a bevy of lamps shaped like cacao pods by Rita Nazareno and fun woven baskets and pillows from Iloilo to attractive uniforms crafted by a Palawan nonprofit, there is something that speaks volumes about the rich regional interactive playground here.
Then there’s the glass-enclosed demo room, which, Mia says, intends to unravel the versatility and the many forms of chocolate. “That’s where we want to showcase the other things you can do with chocolate whether it’s piping it in the pastry, making bonbon molds, or showing how you can incorporate chocolate into different things.” Although a running joke within the Auro team is that the glass chamber could very well be a dedicated discotheque owing to the kaleidoscopic lights installed. “Just need a disco ball,” jokes Mia.
Food favorites reimagined with chocolate
That’s not to say that the food takes a backseat in lieu of the delicious design and groovy bells and whistles.
More than just the visual nourishment the space provides, the menu whirls through a range of food and drinks laden with homeland goodness (try the ginataang kalabasa), attitude (fried chicken and ube waffle with toasted coconut milk “latik” and cacao tablea syrup), and personality (from Rub Rabbit Run cocktail collaborations to Tiki drinks with labels like Alak-san and Mai Pa Tai) to cater to omnivorous tastes and occasions.
Playful in places and startling in nature, Auro Chocolate Cafe took a few more risks in the menu development but it is largely diverse to appease anyone looking for a quick bite, power lunch, pick-me-up, or a hefty dinner. Lovers of pastry, cake, and viennoiserie are in for a treat as Laetitia Moreau of Simone collaborated with Auro to transform dough desires into transformative displays of edible art. Look no further than the Pain Auro Chocolat, their churro-like homage to the chocolate bread whose origins still seem like a tug of war between Austria and France.
And unique to Auro Chocolate Cafe is the fact that most of the savory dishes purposefully utilize chocolate as a key ingredient. “We wanted to continue having more savory foods with chocolate and educating people about using it not just for dessert.”
Playful in places and startling in nature, Auro Chocolate Cafe took a few more risks in the menu development but it is largely diverse to appease anyone looking for a quick bite, power lunch, pick-me-up, or a hefty dinner.
As you skim through the menu, the dishes’ backstories make quite an impression. For instance, most of the items are pulled from the co-founders’ childhoods and travels. One of Mia’s personal favorites is the chicharron manok done askew with the avocado herb dip. “It does also have a little bit of cacao powder dusted into it,” she says. Cacao and chocolate elements also find their way into the satays, peanut sauces, and atchara that are made with a sweet cacao vinegar.
The actual cafe side of the restaurant bears many of the hallmarks of what made Auro Chocolate the brand it is now, sourcing coffee beans from farming communities in Itogon, Benguet. “That’s also something we’re planning to expand and look into so we can grow our community base besides cultivating cacao and making chocolate.”
Stepping up in business
While it seems that everything has been smooth sailing so far, Mia admits there’s plenty of learning curves throughout the process of their soft opening.
“Our family used to have a restaurant and a bakery but it’s very different and for us when we opened this space, we already knew what we wanted and what it took for us to do it,” she says. “But every day there’s always something that you learn, especially with the operational side of running a restaurant or a cafe.”
Challenges like sourcing ingredients and managing employees capture universal experiences that food businesses square up constantly. For people management, Mia hones in on two key principles that have defined them: to empower their staff to make their own decisions and to modernize the business model and not make it “too hierarchy-based.”
“It’s really about how we’re able to create a community and culture of what the Auro brand is but also reflecting it as a company internally.”
Despite all the minor speed bumps, Mia still exudes optimism about this timely new chapter for the brand. It’s a case study of how a small wonder like a cacao bean, a chocolate bar, or a quiet idea in your head can march slowly but surely—growing wiser with time—into the future.
“Just take it one day at a time and always remember why you’re doing it,” says Mia when asked about imparting advice for MSMEs. “Always look at the bigger picture because there are always the nitty-gritty parts that might discourage you from continuing on. Just trust yourself and continue on because eventually it’ll reach that point where you’re already here where you imagined where you wanted it to be.”