The El Rey Story
Milwaukee’s Authentic Hispanic Grocery Store


Bienvenidos al Supermercado El Rey, su tienda familiar desde el 1978.
Aqui encontrara la seleccion mas completa de productos hispanos y muy buen servicio. Gracias por sulealtad.

Ernesto and Heriberto Villareal were born in Mexico. Heriberto (Beto) was born in 1940 and Ernesto in1948.  It is hard to write about the life of each one individually, as their lives and their accomplishments are so intertwined.  Beto came to the United States with his father, Octavio, in 1960. Octavio emigrated his wife and the other children, including Ernesto in 1964.  Beto had finished his secondary and preparatory education in Mexico before coming to Wisconsin.  Ernesto finished middle school at Vieu School in the near south side and high school at was then called Milwaukee Boys Technical School.  Beto married his wife Criselda in 1964. They have two daughters, Laura Hyland and Dianna Villarreal.  Beto and Cris have three grandchildren.  Ernesto and Olivia were married in 1969.  They have four children: Ernesto Jr., Anna Perkins, Elizabeth and Marcos.  They have eight grandchildren.  I mention their children and grandchildren because they consider their entire family an integral part of their success.

Ernesto y Heriberto nacieron en Mejico. Heriberto (Beto) nacio en el 1940 y Ernesto en el 1948. Es muy dificil escribir sobre sus vidas individualmente ya que estan entrelazadascon sus logros. Beto llego a los Estados Unidos con su padre Octavio en el 1960. Octavio trajoa su esposa y a sus otros hijos en el 1964. Beto habia terminadosus estudios desecundaria y preparatoria en Mejico antes de llegar a los Estados Unidos. Ernesto termino intermedia en la Escuela View y preparatoria en el Sur de Milwaukee. Despues el llamo a laescuela tecnica de Milwaukee. Beto se caso con su esposa Criselda en el 1964 y tuvieron dos hijas y tres nietos. Ernesto y Olivia se casaron en el 1969 y tuvieron 4 hijos y 9 nietos. Ellos consideran a su familia una parte integral de su empresa.

Heriberto and Ernesto were brought up to work hard and they began working at Mercury Marine at a very early age.  During this time their father, Octavio, owned and operated a small corner grocery store.  The Hispanic population in Milwaukee grew rapidly in the 1960’s.  Industry was booming and many Hispanic people came North seeking jobs and a better life for their families. The men often came here first and found work.  As they got established here, they sent money back home for a time and then brought their families to Milwaukee as soon as they could afford to.  Octavio’s store was a gathering for these new immigrants.  They were so homesick but also grateful to be in the United States and have employment. Because of their father’s limited resources, it was hard to stock many grocery items that the Mexican immigrants were familiar with.  Beto had started to work part time in another small grocery store that also tried to cater to the Mexican people.  In 1978, Ernesto and Heriberto Villarreal decided to open a store in a larger scale than a small grocery store.  Super Mercado El Rey was opened.  Their sole purpose was to bring products from Mexico to the people of Milwaukee.  Little did they know that they were to start one of the biggest Hispanic owned corporations in Milwaukee and in Southeast Wisconsin.  Their original store, located at 1023 South Cesar Chavez Drive in Milwaukee, has been expanded three times.  A new store, just across the street at 916 South Cesar Chavez Drive, opened in May 2007.  A corn tortilla factory was set up at 5th Street and in 1999 moved to a bigger facility at 1530 South Muskego Avenue, also in Milwaukee.  A second retail outlet was opened in 1995, the third and fourth were added in 1999.  As the Hispanic population’s makeup changed, so did El Rey’s products.  In the beginning, Milwaukee’s Hispanic people were mostly from Mexico, so El Rey was catering to the people from Mexico.  New immigrants from Central and South America as well as the Caribbean started to arrive.  The business shifted to accommodate this section of the population and their food tastes and preferences.

Ernesto y Heriberto aprendieron a trabajar arduamente y comenzaron en Mercury Marine desde muy jovenes. Duranteese tiempo su padre, Octavio, era dueno de una tienda de comida pequena. La poblacion hispana crecio rapidamente en los 60”s. La industria avanzo y muchos hispanos llegaron al Norte buscando trabajo y una vida major para sus familias. Primero llegaron los hombres a encontrar trabajo. Ya una vez establecidos aqui trajeron a sus familias a Milwaukee tan pronto podian costear los gastos. La tienda de Octavio fue un lugar de encuentro para esos nuevos inmigrantes. Extranaban mucho a su pais, pero a la vez estaban agradecidos deestar en los Estados Unidos y de tener trabajo. Por causa de los recursos de su pradre, se hizo dificil guarder muchos de los productos mejicanos. Beto tenia un trabajo a medio tiempoen otra tienda que tambien trato de ofrecer los productos mejicanos. En el 1978, Ernesto y Heriberto Villarreal decidieron abrir una tienda mas grande. Asi comenzo El Rey. Suproposito principal fue el de traer productos de Mejico a la gente en Milwaukee. No se imaginaron que El Rey se convertiria en la compania Hispana y de duenos hispanos mas grandede Milwaukee y en el sureste de Wisconsin. Su tienda original, localizada en el 1023 Sur de la Calle Cesar Chavez en Milwaukee, ha sido agrandada tres veces. Una tienda nueva alcruzar la calle en el 916 Sur de la calle Cesar Chavez, abrio en Mayo del 2007. Tambien esta incluida una Tortilleria que fue movida de la calle 5 al 1530 Avenida Muskego en el 1999. En el 1995 se abrio una segunda tienda El Rey Plaza. Luego en el 1999 se abrieron dos mas incluyendo El Rey Foodmart. Segun ha cambiado la poblacion hispana de Milwaukeetambien han cambiado los productos de El Rey. En el comienzo la mayoria de los clientes de El Rey provenian de Mejico. Actualmente nuestros clientes son inmigrantes de America Central, Sur America y del Caribe. El negocio se acomodo a los diferentes gustos y preferencias.

In the early 1980’s Mexican food became very popular.  This trend set up the Villarreal’s other branch of their business, wholesaling Hispanic food products.  Today, El Rey services just about every restaurant in Wisconsin that has Mexican cuisine.  In the fall of 1993, El Rey studied the possibility of exporting their corn and flour tortillas and other Mexican products to Germany.  In 1994, the first shipments of these items were sent and a wave of Mexican cuisine was started in Germany.  The German distributor registered the name El Rey Nachos in Europe.  For months before the first shipment of corn tortilla chips and nacho cheese, they had billboards placed throughout Germany stating “EL REY NACHOS ARE COMING”.  This really piqued people’s curiosity and now there are many companies that came into the wave of Mexican food into Europe.

En los anos 80’s la comida mejicana se hizo muy popular. Esta tendencia llevo a El Rey a abrir otra rama de negocio, la venta al por mayor de productos hispanos. Hoy El Rey suplea casi todos los restaurants en Wisconsin que preparan comida mejicana. Los productos de El Rey han llegado hasta Alemania!

Ernesto and Heriberto have brought together a unique blend of foods from different parts of the world as well as adapting to American and Wisconsin ingenuity.  For example, in making the corn tortillas and tostadita chips, the corn is steeped in large cooking tanks and then ground with large stones.  The corn comes from Wisconsin and Iowa farm fields, the recipe comes from Mexico and the corn ovens are manufactured in California.  A large amount of the produce that was once only grown in Mexico, in now being grown in California, Florida and the Southwest.  Mexican cheese recipes have made it to the Wisconsin cheese factories and because of the high quality standards, the many different Mexican cheeses have never tasted so good.  Ernesto and Heriberto feel they have the best of all worlds!

Ernesto y Heriberto han originado una variedad de productos de diferentes partes del mundo y han adaptado al gusto Americano y al ingenio de Wisconsin. Por ejemplo, alhacer la tortillas de maiz y las tostaditas, el maize es cocido en recipientes grades y granados con piedras grandes. El maiz proviene de fincas de Wisconsin y de Iowa. La receta vienede Mejico, y los hornos son hechos en California. Una gran cantidad de las frutas y verdures que provenian de Mejico ahora se cosechan en California, Florida y el Suroeste. Lasrecetas de queso Mejicano han llegado a las fabricas de Wisconsin y ahora saben hasta major! Ernesto y Heriberto sienten que tienen lo mejor de todo el mundo!

El Rey and Ernesto and Heriberto are very rooted in the Milwaukee south side community.  They feel a sense of belonging to this community. From day one, the two brothers were committed to giving back to the Hispanic Community.  All the area churches that have a concentrated Hispanic population of parishioners depend on El Rey for their annual festivals and main fund raising events. Today they employ over 325 people and 318 of them are minorities.  With their business, Ernesto and Heriberto have tried to bridge the gap between the Hispanic and Anglo community.  Food always brings people to one common purpose.  On an annual basis, many schools bring their students to the stores of El Rey, as well as to the tortilla factory to help the children understand about the Hispanic culture.  They experience a hands-on learning of the different foods as well as being exposed to people of Hispanic origin; shopping and working in an environment very close to their experiences in their home country.  If not for this experience, most of these students would only depend on learning from their texts.  This is also true of adults of non-Hispanic origin who visit these stores.

El Rey y Ernesto y Heriberto tienen sus raices establecidas en la comunidad del Sur de Milwaukee. Sienten que pertenecen a esta comunidad. Desde el primer dia los doshermanos se comprometieron a compartir con la Comunidad Hispana. Con su negocio, Ernesto y Heriberto han tratado de ser el Puente que une la Comunidad Hispana con la Anglo Americana. La comida siempre une a las personas con un mismo proposito. Cada ano muchas escuelas visitan con sus estudiantes a las tiendas El Rey y a la Tortilleria para aprendery conocer sobre la cultura Hispana. Ellos tienen la oportunidad de comer y comprar productos hispanos de otros paises. De otra manera solo aprenderian de sus libros. Tambien losadultos experimentan durante sus visitas. Personajes historicos como Mrs. Kenedy y la Senadora Hillary Clinton han visitado a El Rey.

In Ernesto and Heriberto’s business there is a true sense of family.  Their wives, Olivia and Criselda have been working at their side since the inception of the business in 1978.  As the children grew and finished school, one by one, they joined the company as well as the spouses of some of the children.  In the early years there were many sacrifices that had to be made.  There was little time off.  Salaries were low for the first ten years and all monies were invested back into the business to keep expanding them.  In the beginning, because this was a minority business, they were scrutinized by different areas of government very closely.  Through time, they have proven with their success that this business, personnel issues seem to be of some concern.  Ernesto and Heriberto’s philosophy has always been, to treat every employee as is they were family.  Ernesto and Heriberto have never thought of themselves as great entrepreneurs, they want to continue to build their business and serve the people of southeast Wisconsin and they feel very humbled by their success and feel very blessed by their family.

En la empresa de Ernesto y Heriberto hay un sentimiento genuino de familia. Sus esposas, Olivia y Criselda han trabajado junto a ellos desde el comienzo en el 1978. Ya crecidos sus hijos y educados tambien forman parte de las tiendas. En los primeros anos se hicieron muchos sacrificios. Habia muy poco tiempolibre. Los salarios eran bajos y todas las ganancias fueron invertidas en el negocio. La filosofia de Ernesto y Heriberto siempre ha sido la de tartar a cadaempleado como a un familiar. Ernesto y Heriberto no pensaron que se convertirian en grandes empresarios. Ellos quieren seguir construyendo al negocio y servir a la gente delsureste de Wisconsin. Se sienten muy privilegiados y bendecidos!