Sol de Luna brings the heat

Celestina Blok

Showing cutting horses and owning a restaurant were two things Frank Sigala never planned on doing. In fact, the 25-year-old owner of Sol de Luna Restaurant, a new Venezuelan-Mexican eatery near Texas Christian University that’s gained praise from critics as far as Dallas, insists, “None of the plans I had planned to grow up and do ever happened.” The Venezuelan native says he also didn’t think he would leave his country and attend TCU as an exchange student in 2008. Now, after receiving his degree in communications studies this year, he said, “I doubt I will ever go back home.”

Sigala’s too busy to return, having not only opened his fledgling restaurant but having fallen in love with training and showing cutting horses. He says he’s been around horses his entire life. His father raised race horses in Venezuela and he grew up an avid fan of coleo – a wild Venezuelan sport in which cowboys on horseback pursue cattle at high speeds. But Sigala didn’t start learning about quarter horses, the athletic animal typically used in cutting, which involves separating a single animal from a cattle herd, until he came to the United States.

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“I felt like I was good at it,” Sigala said about showing and training. “It was something I thought I could grow with, and could get better and better at. Cutting teaches you a lot of things about life, including how to overcome challenges and figure things out. When you train horses you learn how to overcome obstacles. I think that’s what keeps me at it. The minute that it becomes something that I do ‘just because,’ it would probably become boring.” Sigala’s parents, who followed their son to Texas three years ago along with two of his brothers, live in Weatherford, where they train and breed more than 30 horses. Sigala currently has two show prospects of his own – a yearling and a weanling. He hopes to show them in events early next year. Until then, Sol de Luna, located at 3005 S. University Dr., continues to keep him busy after three months in business. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the restaurant was established after Sigala first tried to partner with the space’s previous tenant, Red Cactus. “I was inspired by what they had. I wanted to refine it and make it better,” Sigala said.

But Red Cactus closed and Sigala took over the lease when partnership negotiations fell through. He opened Sol de Luna in August, combining fast-casual Venezuelan fare with a more familiar Mexican menu of tacos, burritos and quesadillas. “The most Venezuelan thing we have is called arepa, which is made of corn dough and is a little like the Mexican gordita, but thicker,” Sigala said. “We stuff it with meat or cheese or whatever people like. It’s a very typical dish in Venezuela. It’s kind of like how you always have bread on the table. We always have arepas on the table.” Tostones – fried plantains served with sour cream, cheese and avocado sauce – are another crowd favorite, Sigala said. “They’re fried, tasty and very flavorful, and have been selling very well.” Empanadas and pepitos – classic grilled Venezuelan sandwiches – are also popular, but Sigala seems most proud of Sol de Luna’s coffee selection.

“Back home, we’re very picky about the way we drink coffee,” he said. “Venezuela is an area where coffee is a culture, like wine is in Italy.” Sigala says he is sourcing very high quality coffees from a purveyor in Dallas who supplies him with Guatemalan and Costa Rican varieties and has taught him how to use an espresso machine to its maximum potential. “The espresso machine makes a huge difference but buying a good quality coffee makes the biggest difference,” Sigala said. So far, Sol de Luna’s lunch shift is the restaurant’s busiest. Sigala hopes that obtaining a liquor license soon will help boost his evening business and that word will spread about the time and attention spent on preparing Sol de Luna’s coffee. “It seems like everybody who walks in here walks out very, very happy,” he said. “You can feel the sincerity in people. Usually they say something where I can tell they really liked it.” Sigala will continue participating in cutting events as much as he can despite his full schedule at the restaurant. “I was a very inconsistent boy growing up. Everything I did, I would do for a couple months and then get tired of it because I didn’t feel challenged,” Sigala said. “Now I continue to feel very challenged. It was something that was meant to happen. Just like I was meant to be here and meant to go to school at TCU. All of these things – none of them I ever planned on.” dd body text here.