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story.lead_photo.caption Hector Leal, owner of Loca Luna, shows off one of the dining areas of the new location on 5200 W. Seventh St., Wake Village. He credits the work of his staff as well as the patronage of their customers for being able to open this second location. Photo by Junius Stone / Texarkana Gazette.

WAKE VILLAGE, Texas — Local restaurants faced one of their greatest challenges when the shutdown occurred last year because of COVID-19. To remain open, like many, Hector Leal's staff operated a drive-through to continue getting food to his customers.

"When we had to shut down, we just worked that much harder," he said. "Four weeks into the shutdown, our drive-through sales matched our total sales previously. When we got to reopen the dining room in May of last year, sales were and remain tremendous.

"To be honest, lots of new customers discovered us during the shutdown. The events of last year put us on the map in the Texarkana dining scene, and we are now in a position to expand. We had the money at that point to invest in a new location."

Leal has been scouting for new locations for a while and has more plans for further expansions later.

He lit upon one on a part of West Seventh Street that is a highly traveled traffic artery but is not overcrowded with restaurants.

"Succeeding at our first location on Richmond Road gave us both the money and the confidence to do this expansion," he said. "Richmond Road is a crowded place, with lots of restaurants. And Loca Luna there is kind of tucked away a bit. But still, we managed to get noticed, and the customers have been great."

Leal also credits food donations to locals with raising the profile of Loca Luna. All told, they donated about 1,500 plates of food.

"During the height of the pandemic, we donated food to various civic groups, like first responders, law enforcement and teachers," he said. "That also got word out."

The new location, formerly Big Cheese Pizza, was perfect for their new outlet. The building is ready to go. The thing that has held them up is getting staff.

"The local employment market right now is challenging," he said. "But we are hiring and are about half-staffed at the new location."

The new Loca Luna will also have a drive-through and will open with its classic menu from the Richmond Road location. In addition, they will open serving alcohol.

"We will have wine, beer and margaritas," he said. "Later this year, we also have plans to expand the Richmond Road location, increasing the size of the dining room and the like."

Leal regards the success of his enterprise as a blessing.

"I am so thankful," he said. "I want to help pass it on."

(Loca Luna's new location is at 5200 W. Seventh St. in Wake Village. It will open April 19.)

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