El Rey Market

The Evolution of El Rey Mexican Foods

How the legendary Mexican grocery store has evolved over decades

1960s: Members of the Mexico-reared Villarreal family settle in Milwaukee. Patriarch Octavio runs a small Mexican grocery store on the South Side.

1978: To meet the demands of the city’s growing Hispanic population, Octavio’s sons Heriberto “Beto” and Ernesto open Super Mercado El Rey at 1023 S. Cesar E. Chavez Dr. Their supermarket, the first Latino business on that street, undergoes three expansions and a warehouse to house their tortilla-making business.

1995: El Rey opens a warehouse on South 35th and Burnham (which later becomes El Rey Plaza).

1999: Another El Rey is christened at South 13th and Burnham. Production of tortillas, chips, tamales, etc. moves to a new warehouse at 1530 S. Muskego Ave.

2007: A new $5 million El Rey opens across the street from the original.

2011: A month after the fourth market debuts – a red brick and roofed building at 5200 W. Oklahoma Ave. – co-founder Beto Villarreal passes away.

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Ann Christenson has covered dining for Milwaukee Magazine since 1997. She was raised on a diet of casseroles that started with a pound of ground beef and a can of Campbell's soup. Feel free to share any casserole recipes with her.