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Frank Polanco

Dining with the Stars: The Mural at La Empanada Loca


When artist Steven Nunez ​and wife Lillian Martinez Nunez decided to move to South Florida from New York, it wasn’t because Steven loves wildlife and nature, some of the inspiring subjects in his artistic creations. In fact, his wife never saw herself making that transition. Their motivation to move here was simply based on Lillian’s pure love and compassion for his brother William Martinez who needed that family bond and support close by while enduring and facing some difficult times in his life healthwise.

A Successful International Artist

Born and raised in New York City, Steven is a successful international self taught artist. His works have been exhibited in many galleries in NYC as well as in Florida. Some of his works have earned him many prizes and recognition as an artist. His hard work and determination led him to have his own studio loft in NY, where he created many of his masterpieces getting worldwide attention through his youtube channel and social media.

Perhaps one of the projects that made him excel in his career has been the commission to airbrush paint four classic automotive hoods exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This exhibit was a milestone that opened the door for him leading to another commission of twenty six more classic automotive hoods for private collectors throughout the world to be showcased at several international gallery exhibitions.

Dining with the Stars: The Mural at La Empanada Loca

With a new dining room addition at La Empanada Loca, William knew he wanted to create a new different ambiance for his customers other than the “chinchorro” type he started with and currently has. He wanted a new vibe, yet with the same courteous and friendly service and delicious authentic Puerto Rican food you  find at La Empanada Loca. So William decided to start a conversation with Steven about bringing in more of Steven’s amazing talent already on exhibit at the restaurant, but on a bigger scale.

For William the main idea and focus behind the ‘The Dining With The Stars Mural’ was to create a mural that embodies Puerto Rican culture: a mural that celebrated some of those iconic talents through music such as Salsa.

Brainstorming to Choose the Artists to Showcase

William and Steven began brainstorming on what artists would be good to showcase in the mural. Many names, such as Olga Tanon, La Lupe, Willie Colon, Frank Ruiz, Ricky Martin, Frankie Ruiz – to name a few – were thrown on the drawing board. They were all great options and well deserving of making the cut, however there was just so much space to work with.

William (left) and Steven (right).

In the end these were the artists chosen to grace the famous wall, from left to right there is Marc Anthony (The King of Salsa), Hector Lavoe (The singer of the singers), Jennifer Lopez (La diva del Bronx), Tito Puente (The King of Latin Music), and Celia Cruz (The Queen of Salsa). For William each one of these artists has had a huge influence in Puerto Rican culture, its music and in the lives of Puerto Ricans.

Customers Chime In On Their Choices for the Mural

With La Empanada Loca’s customers in mind, William even conducted a survey on the restaurant’s Facebook page asking for their opinion on which artists they thought should grace the ‘Dining With The Stars Mural’. While the opinions were very diverse and at times controversial, William’s decision to feature these artist on the mural was also made based on the fact that salsa music is the product of various Cuban musical genres, including the Afro-Cuban son montuno, guaracha, cha cha cha, mambo hence Celia Cruz and Puerto Rican plena and bomba.

The goal of painting this mural is for customers to come in and experience a magical moment, to be able to dine in a different ambience with a glass of wine. Where the mural itself can become a topic of conversation while dining, a photo opportunity and a great memory to take home.

The Techniques Behind the Mural

Steven created the mural by first scaling the image using photoshop giving each one of the musicians featured in the mural a larger than life look. The materials Steven used for the mural were non-toxic and water base paint. A smart move on his part, a thoughtful decision with customers in mind. The glitzy touches on the mural were created with a touch of glitter.

Once completed Steven coated the entire mural with a non-toxic sealer allowing for the amazing artwork he had created to be durable and, at the same time, easy to clean up if need be without defacing it. This was a huge undertaking for Steven, a labor of love for his brother in law, William.

It took Steven two weeks two paint the beautiful mural. He worked on it anywhere between ten to twelve hours each day and slowly but surely the mural came to life. Steven hopes the painting will stimulate conversation amongst the customers dining at the restaurant, and most importantly, bring smiles and joy to every person who dines there.

A Special Touch to Immortal Artists

Here is an interesting fact, while William and Steven were bouncing around ideas on how to portray each one of these iconic artists on the mural,  they agreed to paint those artist that are no longer with us in black and white giving them a classic feel. As a result Hector Lavoe, Tito Puente and Celia Cruz are in black and while while a touch of skin color has been added to those artists that are still alive: Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez.

Tito Puente.
Celia Cruz.
Hector Lavoe.

Even though William or Steven never had the opportunity to meet the deceased artist featured in the mural, one thing they sure are hopeful is to be able to welcome Marc Anthony or Jennifer Lopez very soon to the restaurant so they can appreciate Steven’s amazing work while enjoying one of the many exquisite dishes served.

Marc Anthony.

A Very Special Visit from Tito Puente's Son

In retrospective, shortly after the painting was completed Tito Puente Junior (Tito Puente’s son) heard through some amazing customers, celebrities in their own right, about the mural, at La Empanada Loca, that honors his late father.

It prompted him to visit the restaurant during a very low key soft opening. Tito Puente Jr was touched and much appreciative to William for showcasing his father’s legacy in such a special way in his restaurant and to Steven for the wonderful rendition. Tito Puente Jr left his mark on behalf of his father by signing the mural.

While the dining room is now open for everyone’s enjoyment, it is William’s goal to host a great opening to celebrate Steven’s work as well as the legacy of each and everyone of the artists featured in ‘The Dining With The Stars Mural’ post pandemic.

To learn more and to commission Steven, please visit his website www.stevennunez.com


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