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El Rey Foods mourns the loss of a founder

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MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) – A grocery chain staple in Milwaukee is mourning the loss of one of its founders.

El Rey took to social media Monday morning to make the announcement.

Founder Armando Villarreal passed away on Sunday. While he ventured off into his businesses, the family still accredits him for his hard work in bringing the first corn tortilla factory to Wisconsin.

El Rey opened its doors in 1978, expanding into the chain it is today that includes three locations with groceries, bakeries, restaurants, and its well-known tortillas.

Armando Villarreal, along with his brothers Heriberto and Ernesto, made it their priority to bring a piece of Mexico to immigrants living in the area, while introducing the community to the culture.

The family accredits Armando for organizing the company’s most popular branch - El Rey Tortilleria. It became the first corn tortilla factory in Wisconsin and continues to serve the area through deliveries to local businesses and restaurants.

Armando ventured away from the company in its early years to start similar businesses in Mexico and Texas, but would frequent the area to help as needed.

“He had a lot of passion for starting more companies and being the first to do certain things,” says Ernesto Villarreal Jr., one of the current owners of the El Rey. “There was a need in Texas and Mexico of things that were not being done at the moment, so he went down there. He was always coming here every couple of months and wanted to see what we were doing new or what new projects we were doing.”

“We never prepared to receive this kind of news,” says Laura Echeveste, who has been working at the store since 1981. “So for us, all of the employees here, we’re really sad. We pray for him and for the whole family.”

Employees and family members say they will remember Armando by his caring personality and hard-worker mindset.

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