Life’s an Adventure
By Meda Kessler
Photos by Ralph Lauer
Restaurateur Sarah Castillo relies on mom Christina for moral support, creative vision and, yes, even safety pins. They both never stop thinking: What else can I do?
It’s preview night at Sidesaddle Saloon in Fort Worth’s Stockyards for friends and family, and co-owner Sarah Castillo is checking on the myriad details at her new project.
But the neckline of her wrap dress keeps gaping, and this slight wardrobe malfunction is a distraction. Right before guests arrive, Sarah’s mom sits her down, pulls out a safety pin and adjusts the dress. Because that’s what moms do, even when their daughter is an adult and a successful restaurateur.
Christina Castillo, known as Tinie (pronounced thee-nee) and the namesake of one of her daughter’s restaurants, is among Sarah’s biggest fans. And lately, she has had a lot to cheer about.
Sarah, who opened one of Fort Worth’s first food trucks with her mom in 2010, has gone on to expand Taco Heads into two restaurants, including one in Dallas; a third is in the works in the Stockyards.
In March 2020, she opened Tinie’s Mexican Cuisine on Fort Worth’s popular South Main Street after nearly a two-year renovation process on the 1930s building. Named for her mom, Tinie’s showcases a more Mexico City-style menu run by chef/partner Christian Lehrmann and a cocktail bar headed by her other business partner, Glen Keely.
Sarah credits her mother for her drive, passion and love of food. Too, Sarah’s grandparents ran the Little Diner on Magnolia Avenue for 15 years.
Interestingly, Sarah grew up not eating much Mexican food at home. Instead, her mom made dishes such as baked salmon or liver and onions. “I made traditional Mexican dishes only on special occasions,” says Christina. “I wanted the kids to try new foods and eat healthy. I only went to restaurants to learn about specific dishes, such as eggplant parmigiana. I had a pretty good palate, so I could taste something and figure out the ingredients to make it at home.”
Sarah remembers her mom shopping only “the perimeter” at the grocery. “That’s where you find fresh produce and meats instead of the canned and prepacked stuff. Frozen pizza was considered a treat.”
Sarah fell in love with tacos because of frequent trips to Mexico while attending college in the Rio Grande Valley. After settling back in Fort Worth after living in Aspen, New York and Spain, she built and opened the food truck with her mother. Working at Eddie V’s and Globe Life Park in Arlington helped her raise the necessary funds.
“I was the middle child and the fearless one. Mom encouraged me to explore and make things happen.”
Mona says she raised all her her girls to be independent. “But this was Sarah’s path. She had a quest and no matter what roadblocks got in her way, she was determined to achieve her goal.”
Christina, by accidental necessity, helped come up with the model for the breakfast tacos sold on the food truck. During her short career as a mail carrier, she came up with something she could eat on the go. At home, she would make a few, wrap them in foil and take them to work. Her co-workers began asking her to make more, and a cottage industry was born.
While one of Sarah’s original dreams was to open a boutique hotel based on her time spent in New York City, she found herself drawn into all aspects of the restaurant business, from concept to design.
Christina, meanwhile, turned a sewing hobby into a career (custom upholstery and draperies). She enrolled at Tarrant County Community College and was invited by TCU to apply for a spot in the four-year interior design program. “I was a 50-year-old in classes with a bunch of girls who were 18,” she recalls. “It was a busy time with Taco Heads, school and my youngest daughter getting married.” She went on to intern with nationally known designer Joseph Minton, who then had offices in Fort Worth and Dallas, and after graduation, was hired full time.
And she makes herself available to Sarah when needed. “Mom never tells me what to do, but she’s been a great influence. If I’m trying to pick out wallpaper, she’ll offer suggestions and is usually right.” Christina took Minton to Sidesaddle Saloon to get his ideas on what to do with such a cavernous space. She came up with the idea of using vintage lace curtains on the main door at Tinie’s. And now she’s considering getting a degree in construction management to understand more of the building phase. “I’m also a food snob now,” she says. “I credit Sarah for that.”