WOMAN OF STYLE: Sheila Romero: A mother, first and foremost
- Ana G. Kalaw () - March 9, 2011 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Sheila Romero has perfected the art of hosting. Even delivery pizza is made glamorous, served with gourmet chili oil and homemade carbonara pasta with truffle oil. Water is served in glass ewers containing slices of ripe oranges. Every so often, in between dress changes and makeup touch-ups, she calls for the food to be heated. Having been in the hospitality business for almost two decades, food and service have become second nature to her.

A holder of a double degree in applied economics and management of financial institutions from the De La Salle University, Sheila has been operating food businesses since 1993, including the posh restaurant Azzurro and a Mediterranean restaurant and wine bar. She was also at the helm of Spargo World Barbeques and Chimes Singaporean-Malay restaurant at Fort Bonifacio Global City. 

What Sheila Romero wears to formal events: A turquoise dress from one of her favorite designers, Randy Ortiz, with Jimmy Choo shoes

In 1996, she ventured into the retail business with her sister with a lifestyle store called Beyond Bamboo. The store specialized in interior design, furniture and soft furnishings. “From kilos and grams, I learned inches and meters.” Both her restaurant and interior retail experience became learning grounds for another recent undertaking: a boutique hotel/student dorm.

Located along Katipunan, Oracle Hotel and Residences is a 12-floor building that houses dorms for university students and transient students, as well as travelers and conference attendees. Needless to say, the demands and requirement of a hotel are much more intensive.

“The restaurants I have had in the past are definitely smaller in terms of capital requirement and operations,” says Sheila. “Owning a business like this demands that I am abreast of the new developments in the industry and I am switched on in finance, accounting and management.” However, she still indulges her affinity with food with the hotel restaurant, O Bistro and Café, a space that offers gourmet food at affordable prices, and is also being envisioned as prospective art space.

What Sheila Romero wears to lunch with friends: Sheila in a DKNY dress and Paul Smith heels.

“I want the place to be a watering hole for artists and art lovers also,” says Sheila, a lover and collector of local art, along with her husband, entrepreneur Mikee Romero. “In the future, we are planning to hold seminars with artists — painters, sculptors and fine arts students — to enhance their studies.”

But before becoming a restaurateur, a hotelier or an art enthusiast, Sheila Romero, is, above all, a mother. She has four children whom she prioritizes, despite a very hectic schedule: Milka, 18; Miguel, 16; Mandy, 11; and Santi, 6. “My children are my top priority. I make it a point to attend all their activities in school.”

One by one, each of them comes home from their respective schools, curious about the strangers that have amassed in their living room. Milka laughingly reproves her mother’s on-cam demeanor; Mandy and Santi ask random questions in between pizza bites. And Miguel, after a brief greeting, disappears. Sheila engages each one in conversation, encouraging interaction, answering questions while the stylist pulls at her hair. “Every day, I make time to bond with each of them, talking about how their day went. I believe that the true measure of success is not in your material accomplishments but in how successful you are in raising your children. I am a mother first and foremost and I am responsible for the lives of my children. Although I cannot make choices for them, I can only mold and guide them.”

PHILIPPINE STAR: How do you bond with your kids and your husband?

SHEILA ROMERO: My husband and I go to Baclaran Church every Wednesday. This is a practice I learned from my parents when I was young. At least thrice a month, we also go on dates, either we go out for dinner or go clubbing

Weekends are for the family. We normally eat out Friday night and bond with our children. We spend summer vacations abroad and, if there is a long weekend, we either take short trips within the country or nearby Asian countries. If there is one vice that I have, it’s traveling abroad. It releases me from stress — but I have a bigger load when I get back. (Laughs).

What’s your favorite cuisine? 

What she wears to red carpet occasions: Sheila, photographed in the ballroom of the Oracle boutique hotel, wears a Rajo Laurel belted jumpsuit.

I like Spanish and French cuisines with wine. Everybody in the family loves Japanese food, especially Inagiku at the Shangri-La.   (Aburi sushi destroys my diet.)

The Romeros are avid art collectors. Their impressive collection includes paintings by Luna, Hidalgo and Amorsolo.

Is there anything you’ll never eat?

I like trying different cuisines but you can’t make me eat snakes, locusts and snails.

How did your interest in food and cooking start? 

When I was in fourth grade, my dad was a partner in one of the oldest Filipino food chains — this was before the Ihaw-Ihaw and Bakahan at Manukan chain. I would visit on weekends and go around each department. Our travels abroad also opened my palate to different cuisines at an early age.

Is there a dish that you’ve mastered? 

Wagyu a la pobre, beef salpicao, lengua herb Sevillana, Iberian chicken, Herb-roasted chicken, salmon on risotto, seabass with pasta puttanesca and chili tinapa pasta, among others

Do you dream of eating in any restaurant? 

The Les Ambassadeurs in Hotel de Crillon in Paris.

What is your favorite place in the world? Where do you keep going back to? 

San Francisco is our second home. It is a place where we can just relax and do things that I don’t do everyday like cook for my family. 

I also love Rome. We go there every year for our pilgrimage, to do some soul searching and a spiritual assessment of the past year. We go to Cascia, also in Italy, to visit the Shrine of St. Rita, The Saint of the Impossible, and to San Giovanni Rotondo in thanksgiving to St. Pio for all the answered prayers. At any given, opportunity I try to share our devotion to these two saints.

What place do you still dream of visiting? 

I would like to explore the South of France. It’s not easy to bring kids to Europe so when my youngest is bigger I will bring them back to Mykonos and Santorini. Jamaica, Rio de Janeiro and Alaska, I am reserving for when we are 60. 

What do you look for when you travel?

I like quaint towns, cobbled steps and narrow streets that lead you to interesting shops and restaurants, like those in Madrid and Paris.

What made you decide to enter the hotel business?

One of the superior rooms at Oracle Hotel and Residences, located along Katipunan Avenue fronting Ateneo.

The opportunity came when Mikee bought this property in Katipunan. We first put up a high-end dorm and commercial spaces for lease. Then when we saw the demand, we decided to expand into the hotel business. Oracle is the only boutique hotel in the area. Although it may be niche, because of the limitations of its location, we still have a market. Aside from the modern and fresh interiors, Oracle has a ballroom with a high ceiling similar to big hotels. (Many people are surprised that we have a ballroom that big.) A lot of corporate, mostly pharmaceutical accounts, government and university seminars, have their live-in functions at Oracle. They are equally happy with the superb food in our restaurant and the personalized service.

Do you see yourself opening more hotels of this kind elsewhere? 

It’s not easy opening another one. But, to go big, I should have at least three boutique hotels. Maybe in the future — if I have good people to help me run it. It entails a lot of time and is not a priority right now. To make a mark in Quezon City is an achievable goal in the near future and that is where I am focused right now. We have just been open for just six months and I think my team and I are on the right track.

Who are your favorite designers?

I like Randy Ortiz, Rajo Laurel and Inno Sotto. For the foreign designers, I like Valentino, Oscar dela Renta, Miuccia Prada and the simple designs of Calvin Klein.

Do you have any style icons? 

I don’t have any in particular but I like some of the outfits worn by Gwyneth Paltrow and Victoria Beckham. For interior design, I like Kelly Hoppen.

OThe O Bistro and Café at the Oracle, currently the only bistro-cum wine bar in the Katipunan area, serving affordable gourmet food. Even this space is decorated with paintings, which Sheila regularly changes. The restaurant also hosts Jamming Nights every Thursday.

Best fashion piece you’ve inherited? 

A vintage Rolex dress watch and a diamond ring from my mother.

Best fashion/beauty advice you’ve ever been given? 

I don’t really put makeup on a daily basis, that’s why I was able to keep my complexion clear. Otherwise, never sleep with makeup on. Always wash your face and moisturize. Take good care of designer bags and clothes — fashion always comes back.

Do you collect anything?

Trying not to freeze in Japan

My husband Mikee and I have a passion for collecting works of Filipino painters. My favorite is Fernando Amorsolo. He was able to capture the Philippine culture in his eternal work. He glorified what is beautiful in the otherwise daily grind of the people. His strokes are unique and have never been copied.

Paintings don’t just enhance the interiors of a place. Art is an investment that, as we have witnessed, have been resilient to the recent downfall of the world economy.

How did your interest in the arts start? 

We started collecting paintings of National Artists mostly in oil. Through the years, we are able to acquire a formidable collection of Amorsolo, H.R. Ocampo, and Alcuaz, among others. Recent buys also include works by Manny Garibay, Elmer Borlongan, Igan D’Bayan, Mark Justiniani, John Santos and Ronald Ventura. Mikee and I bond by going to auctions. Our latest additions are those I won in a local art auction. It’s a modern work by Wire Tuazon and a hard-to-find Ronald Ventura.

Are you also an artist yourself?

Nope. I don’t know how to draw. I just know how to appreciate art.

What do you indulge in?

Haagen-Dazs macadamia nut and rum raisin ice cream.

What are your cheap thrills? 

I enjoy bonding in amusement parks with my children. I rode the Vortex, which is a roller coaster built like a corkscrew, on a recent visit to the Great America theme park.

What are you obsessed with now? 

Sheila Romero with husband Mikee Romero and eldest daughter Milka in Corinth and in the Parthenon in Athens in Greece

I would like to have more time for the foundation that I put up. My desire is to put up an orphanage for abandoned and battered children. I would like to free up myself from work to focus on this.

If you were given a second chance to experience a moment from your past, what would it be? 

In Italy, at the place where canonized saint Padre Pio ate every day.

I believe that everything happens for a purpose. God does not give you something that is not for you. If you made a wrong decision, it is important that you learn from it and move on. He will give you a chance to correct it and go back to the route destined for you. God is merciful. I don’t really want to delve in the past if not just to learn from it.

What is your present state of mind? 

I am happy and contented with my family. On different levels, I would say that our children have a very good disposition and have inculcated the values and principles that my husband and I have been teaching them. I have a career that may be demanding but it, at least, still allows me to be flexible with my time.

Sheila is, above all, mother to her four children. A Halloween scene from their yearly San Francisco trips.

At this point in your life, do you still dream of accomplishing something?

I want to live long enough to see my children through and take care of my grandchildren. 

I would also like to take up short courses in Isscham or CCA to learn new techniques and dishes. It’s boring just to follow a cookbook. I am just hindered because it takes my weekend away from my family. In the future, when my children are older, maybe I’ll take cooking classes at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.

I would also want Oracle Hotel and Residences to be a landmark in Quezon City.

* * *

For more information on Oracle Hotel and Residences, call 928-1009 or 928-1006.

CHILDREN HOTEL KATIPUNAN ORACLE HOTEL AND RESIDENCES SHEILA SHEILA ROMERO
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