Sophie Bolich

El Rey Celebrating 45 Years

Entertainment, giveaways and discounts planned at all four stores for celebratory community event.

By - Apr 28th, 2023 11:03 am
El Rey supermarket, 916 S. Cesar E. Chavez Dr. Photo taken April 27, 2023 by Sophie Bolich.

El Rey supermarket, 916 S. Cesar E. Chavez Dr. Photo taken April 27, 2023 by Sophie Bolich.

El Rey, the family-owned Hispanic supermarket chain, will soon celebrate its 45th year in business.

On May 13, the company will commemorate the anniversary with a community-wide celebration featuring giveaways, cake, live music and more. Events will take place at all four El Rey locations.

“I could never have imagined this,” said co-owner Ernesto Villarreal in a statement. “It took a lot of determination and work. It is thanks to the clients that have supported us since the beginning and that continue with us that we are here today.”

A live mariachi band will perform from noon until 3 p.m., with cake cutting to take place at 1 p.m. and a piñata break for children aged 10 and younger at 3 p.m.

Prize giveaways will occur throughout the entire day, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The local brand, which operates four supermarkets throughout Milwaukee, was first launched in 1978 by Villarreal and his brother, Beto.

The store’s original location, 1023 S. Cesar E. Chavez Dr., was expanded three times before moving across the street to 916 S. Cesar E. Chavez Dr., where it remains today. A Family Dollar has since opened in the original building.

The brothers, who were born in Mexico and arrived in Milwaukee as young men, followed in the footsteps of their father, Octavio, who owned a small food shop in the 1960s at a time when the Hispanic — and more specifically, Mexican — population was growing rapidly in Milwaukee and its surrounding counties.

Octavio’s store came to be a gathering place for those missing family — and food — back at home. El Rey started with the same roots, catering mostly to those of Mexican descent. But throughout the past 45 years, the store has evolved along with the city — into a community hub for those of all different backgrounds seeking high-quality food and ingredients that are difficult to find at other stores in the area.

The stores now stock a wide variety of international staples, particularly those of Central American, South American and Caribbean countries. El Rey has also received visits from notable figures including Caroline Kennedy and Hillary Clinton.

In addition to its four southside stores, located at 5200 W. Oklahoma Ave., 916 S. Cesar E. Chavez Dr., 1320 W. Burnham St. and 3524 W. Burnham St., El Rey operates a tortilleria at 1530 S. Muskego Ave. The family also owns several southside properties.

The tortillera provides ingredients for “nearly all Wisconsin restaurants that offer Mexican food,” according to the company’s website. The tortilleria also provides tours to local students, offering the opportunity to observe the preparation of and taste the product while learning about Mexican culture.

Through it all, the Villarreal brothers continue prioritizing community in their business, acting as a bridge that “brings together the Hispanic community with the neighboring communities,” the company said in a news release.

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