El Rey grocery store co-founder Armando Villarreal dies

Started company's successful corn tortilla production arm

El Rey co-founders (left to right) Beto Villarreal, Ernesto Villarreal and Armando Villarreal

Armando Villarreal, co-founder of the El Rey Hispanic grocery stores in Milwaukee died Sunday at the age of 76.

The company announced the news via Facebook on Monday.

Armando helped start the business in 1978 with brothers and current owners Ernesto and Heriberto Villarreal. They opened El Rey’s first store location at 1023 S. Cesar E. Chavez Drive in Walker’s Point.

Armando left the company five years later to pursue other business opportunities in Texas and Mexico, but he is credited with launching El Rey’s corn tortilla factory, which has become one of the company’s most successful divisions, it said.

El Rey currently has more than 400 employees and four grocery stores, all on Milwaukee’s south side.

“It’s very hard when you start (a business) together because there’s not enough money, but we did fine,” Ernesto Villarreal said. “One of the keys for us to succeed was because (Armando) knew how to run the tortilla factory.”

He said Armando would tinker with the tortilla machines to make them work more efficiently, even after he had left the company.

“He used to come often to visit us, and any problem with the tortillas or the machines, he used to come during his vacations and go right away to the factory,” Villarreal said.

He said his brother will be remembered for his intelligence and as someone who was never satisfied with his own accomplishments, always striving to work harder and faster.

“He was someone who used to say ‘hi’ to everybody, he was in a good mood all the time,” Villarreal said.

Funeral services will take place Tuesday in Mission, Texas, which is where Armando Villarreal had resided.

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Maredithe has covered retail, restaurants, entertainment and tourism since 2018. Her duties as associate editor include copy editing, page proofing and managing work flow. Meyer earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University and still enjoys attending men’s basketball games to cheer on the Golden Eagles. Also in her free time, Meyer coaches high school field hockey and loves trying out new restaurants in Milwaukee.

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