About

Inspired by the diverse regions of Spain, award-winning Chef Amar Santana, along with his partner Ahmed Labbate and investors Rich Cadarette and Paul Roy, create an atmosphere where the food and drink transport you to Spain.

 

The restaurant’s menu is inspired by the creativity of Chef Amar Santana and his version of authentic Spanish cuisine. It features top quality ingredients, with a global superior meat selection and unmatched innovative beverage program.

 

Share and enjoy! At Vaca dishes are tapas and family style, meant to share over great conversation, atmosphere and with an amazing crafted drink or aromatic wine in hand!

Amar & Ahmed

about-ahmed

CEO/PARTNER

 

Ahmed has a passion for fine food and hospitality, with a degree in hotel and restaurant management, he worked at some of Morocco’s most well known hospitality corporations — Hyatt Regency, Sheraton, Safir and Sofitel — covering all the bases: concierge, front desk, dining room manager.  Seeking to expand his worldview, he headed to one of Germany’s great retreats, Priem Am Kiemsee in the Hotel Feldhütter. Just 45 minutes from Munich, he made a name for himself at this fine resort as both front desk agent and dining room captain. A short time later America (and the mouse) came knocking, and Labbate seized the opportunity to utilize his background and European-style skills in an entirely unexpected way. He journeyed to Orlando, Florida, where he underwent intensive, elaborate training in “Morocco” — or at least in the Moroccan restaurant at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center.

Labbate continued his quest for the best as a captain at Aquavit in New York City, alongside up-and-coming star Chef Marcus Samuelsson. Labbate joined the Charlie Palmer Group as a captain at Aureole, NY and Aureole, Las Vegas, then as General Manager at Charlie Palmer Steak at the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas. Prior to joining Broadway, Ahmed was the General Manager at Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s in South Coast Plaza. He dreamt of opening his own restaurant and is excited to be collaborating with Chef Amar.


about-amar-santana

CHEF/PARTNER

 

Chef Amar Santana is one of Orange County’s hottest rising stars who is undeniably transforming the OC culinary scene into a food destination. His impressive career crescendo in 2012 occurred at the age of 30, when he opened his widely successful flagship restaurant, Broadway By Amar Santana in Laguna Beach. His globally influenced menu includes unexpected flavor profiles and artful presentations, reflecting his zeal for food and for life. Almost immediately, critical acclaim, accolades and countless rave reviews rolled in. Santana attributes his success as a direct result of ambition, drive, passion, and modestly, extraordinary talent.

Born in the Dominican Republic, Santana migrated to the US at the age of 13 and his family settled in Queens, NY. During his sophomore year in high school, an accidental enrollment into a cooking course sponsored by Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) forever changed his life. Santana’s teacher immediately recognized great potential and encouraged the 16-year-old to further his training through an internship at Chef David Waltuck’s Chanterelle, one of New York’s famed French restaurants. In 1999, Santana entered a culinary competition sponsored by C-CAP and won a two week long trip to London’s prestigious Le Cordon Bleu. Upon graduating high school, Santana enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY on a full scholarship awarded by C-CAP.

In 2001 Santana began an externship at Aureole under the mentorship of Chef Gerry Hayden, for which he returned upon CIA graduation as a full time cook. Within a year he became the youngest person to be named Sous Chef in one of New York’s busiest and most demanding kitchens. After honing his skills at Aureole, Santana was tapped to serve on the opening teams for Chef Palmer’s highly acclaimed Charlie Palmer Steak and Fin Fish in Reno, NV proceeded by Charlie Palmer at The Joule in Dallas, TX.

In 2007, at the age of 25, after undergoing a world tour on the Seaborne Cruise Line as a consulting chef, Charlie Palmer selected Santana to run the kitchen of his first Southern California restaurant, Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s South Coast Plaza. As Executive Chef, Santana earned Charlie Palmer four stars from the Orange County Register and one of Orange County’s Top Ten restaurants by Orange Coast Magazine. Embracing California’s culinary landscape helped to diversify his craft and inspired an appreciation for the integrity of ingredients. Passionate about all things pork, Chef Santana also cultivated and mastered his skills with dried meat and charcuterie.

Since the birth of his culinary career at the age of 16, the dream to open his own restaurant came into fruition in September of 2011. Broadway By Amar Santana evokes a New York ambience, with a beautifully designed kitchen and an intimate speakeasy cocktail bar. Since opening a year ago, Santana has garnered countless praise-worthy articles and acclaim, among them: Orange Coast Magazine’s Top Ten Chef’s of 2012; OC Metro’s Best Chef’s in Orange County; OC Weekly’s Best Restaurant of 2012; and, a place on the Open Table Hottest Restaurant List. Ultimately even the awards take a back seat to his singular pursuit of expressing his passion through food and providing an unforgettable gastronomical experience. Chef Santana’s fearless enthusiasm and adventurous spirit continue to drive him towards greatness.

Michael & Gaby

about-michael-rooney

BAR MANAGER

 

Michael Rooney joined Vaca Group in 2013 as a bartender at Broadway by Amar Santana, where his earnestness to improve his craft and academic approach to spirits quickly earned him the Bar Manager post. Under his curation, the Broadway Spirits Program has become a dynamic, quality-driven staple in Orange County. A Hispanophile at heart, Michael has spent the last year focusing on Sherry wine—one of the world’s most remarkable, varied, and misunderstood categories of alcohol. This research and interest lends heavily to the focuses of the Vaca Beverage Program. His 2015 win in the Tullamore DEW Bar Stories competition embodied the knowledge and assertive character that have made him one of the most enigmatic barpersons in Orange County.

about-gabrielle-dion

BAR CONSULTANT

 

Gabrielle Dion has an unrivaled bar industry pedigree in Orange County. As a 2010 Bombay Sapphire Most Imaginative Bartender winner and 2012 OC Weekly Bartender of the Year, Gaby pushed her bartender limits alongside her spirits knowledge. In 2014, she graduated from the BAR 5-Day, the most intensive educational program in the industry. Having worked with the Vaca Ownership Team at Charlie Palmer, Gaby commanded the rise and notability of the bar program at Broadway by Amar Santana. While opening and owning her own bar-centric retail space, The Mixing Glass in Costa Mesa, Gaby concurrently consults on the bar programs at Broadway by Amar Santana and Vaca.
Ghali, Luis & Dino

about-ghali-benhima

GENERAL MANAGER

 

Ghali Benhima realized his dream of coming to America while recruited to join Walt Disney World in 2005. With a Bachelor of Science in Tourism and Hospitality Management, Ghali traveled across the globe to create his future at the Epcot World Showcase in Orlando, Florida. He selected Restaurant Marrakesh for its unique themed dining experience, coupled with his affinity for Moroccan cooking.

During his tenure at Restaurant Marrakesh, he drew closer to the culinary arts of his home country, Morocco, and Mediterranean cuisine. His pursuit to learn more about Spanish dishes and recipes led him to Eclipse Di Luna Restaurant and Tapas Bar in Atlanta, Georgia, where he was quickly promoted to a management position, and within this five-year period began his love affair with food.

As his passion grew, he migrated to the West Coast to join Vaca Group as the Dining Room Manager of Broadway by Amar Santana. Delivering an exceptional and extraordinary dining experience is his perpetual goal. As the General Manager of Vaca, Ghali looks forward to providing continued encore performances for Vaca Group, an experience that guests have coveted since 2011.


about-luis-gomez

CHEF DE CUISINE

 

Luis Gomez was educated by The Culinary Arts Academy of Cerritos College and mentored by Chef Michael Pierin. He has apprenticed and worked in top restaurants all over Los Angeles and Orange County, including Studio at The Montage of Laguna Beach. Gomez prides himself in providing exceptional quality of product, technique and honest cooking — both in and out of the kitchen. Born and raised in Los Angeles, it was hard for Gomez to stay out of the heat while being influenced by the multifaceted cultural flare of the city and the intensity of the restaurant scene.

Luis joined Vaca Group in the summer of 2014 when he was brought into Broadway by Amar Santana as a line cook. Captivated by Amar’s distinct cooking style, Luis was empowered to work with exceptional ingredients, house made charcuterie, progressive culinary techniques and a vibrant open kitchen in the heart of Downtown Laguna Beach. After a year of cooking on the line, he rose to the position of Sous Chef and now gets the opportunity to train the founding team for Vaca.


Rich & Paul

about-rich-and-kathy-cadarette

INVESTORS

 

After spending 23 years developing the largest orthopedic implant distributorship in Southern California, Rich sold his business in 2009 to devote more time to his family and his personal interests. One of the interests he developed while doing a lot of entertaining in his previous endeavor was food and wine. His interest in the field became so intense that he became an avid wine collector and home chef. He prides himself in knowing most of the latest techniques including sous vide cooking.

In the back of his mind while building his business, Rich had the dream of owning a restaurant.  Even though he carried the dream, he never acted upon it because he never met anyone who had the same passion for developing a truly outstanding experience for the enjoyment of food and wine that was beyond just consumption; that is, until he met Chef Amar Santana and Ahmed Labbate. Over the last few years, a mutual relationship and friendship was fostered and the common interests and talents of the group became so evident that the dream had to come to fruition. They all wanted to create an experience where the food became the “show” and where the environment compelled the customer to return.

Out of that dream, the Broadway concept was born. Three people coming together to develop a dining experience where guests would taste, smell, watch — and seek more encore performances.


about-paul-and-pam-roy

INVESTORS

 

Paul Roy began his entrepreneurial career in his early 20s when he and a partner started a frozen yogurt company in his garage. The company, Big Train, Inc., quickly evolved into selling specialty coffee products to a growing number of coffee houses, and set the industry standard for ice blended drinks and chai tea lattes, both in the United States and internationally. In 2006, a private equity firm purchased the company and Paul turned his focus towards managing his investments.

Paul and his wife, Pam, had the opportunity to work with Chef Amar Santana and Ahmed Labbate for several years while hosting charity events in their home. They became fans of Broadway by Amar Santana and saw the consistent professionalism and skilled execution carry through at both the events and the restaurant. Inspired by Chef Amar’s intense passion for food and Ahmed’s extensive management skills, they were thrilled to become investment partners in their new venture, Vaca.