What’s the plan for BE’s El Tio Restaurant?
A question that has been asked many times around Blue Earth in the past eight months is whether the El Tio Mexican Restaurant is going to open back up again.
The answer, according to owner Ismael Martinez, is “Hopefully.”
It was the middle of last October that things changed dramatically and the restaurant closed.
“My wife, Elizabeth, had a health issue, a brain aneurysm,” Martinez explains. “She is fine now, but she wasn’t back then.”
Since Elizabeth Martinez was the cook and manager of El Tio, the couple had to shut down the restaurant, but had plans to open it back up when they could.
“Elizabeth has been doing well, but she is not really ready to go back to work full time, every day,” Martinez says. “It was long days at the restaurant for her.”
They thought about opening up just a few days a week, he says, like Thursday, Friday and Saturday. They also discussed either leasing the business or selling it, but have never officially listed it anywhere.
“We have had some people interested in it, and we may be able to soon have someone come in and run it,” Martinez says. “On a lease deal.”
Martinez is a busy man. He runs his own construction company and has stepped up his work to cover all the family expenses now without the restaurant being open.
“There are still bills with the restaurant even though it isn’t open, like taxes and insurance,” he says. “So we need to keep working a lot to pay those.”
He says he and his crew, which he refers to as his partners, do a lot of work in Mankato. They started with a few remodeling jobs there and the word spread that they do good work and are not high priced, so they get lots of repeat and referral work.
He was busy doing a lot of remodeling work on the El Tio building last year, and had some major projects going on up to last Oct. 15.
A new roof, overhang, entryway, parking lot and many other improvements had been finished or were in the works.
They were giving the place a more Mexican appearance on the outside, with new paint as well.
“We used some red paint before, and it looked more pink than red,” Martinez says. “People made comments about the pink color. So now we were giving it better colors of paint.”
Martinez says he and his crew can finish the work in just a couple of days if and when the place is going to open up again.
Seeing the remodeling construction starting back up could be the clue that someone will be soon inside to start cooking tacos and fajitas again.
Ismael and Elizabeth Martinez were both born in Mexico and came to the U.S. 27 years ago, in 1993.
They first lived in Texas, but came to Minnesota to do seasonal work.
“Elizabeth just loved Minnesota and Blue Earth and said we should move here,” Martinez says. “So, in 2001, 18 years ago, we moved here. We were in Elmore and Winnebago for a little while, then here to Blue Earth.”
It was about 10 years ago that Martinez’s sister, Maria, had a Mexican grocery store in the building and Ismael and Elizabeth starting a small taco shop in the building too.
“Little by little it turned into a restaurant and we shared the building half and half,” Ismael Martinez says. “Then my sister moved the grocery store to a different building by the railroad tracks and we filled the whole building here.”
Ismael and Elizabeth have two sons, Jovany, 26, and Daniel, 15. They also have a 4-year-old granddaughter, Ila.
Martinez feels very blessed, he says, and is thankful to God for everything he has.
“I feel God is my partner,” he says. “I?feel OK and God is with me.”
His strong faith is reflected in his work at his church, Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Blue Earth.
Plus, Martinez is on the KJLY radio station in Blue Earth for two hours every weekday morning, broadcasting a program in Spanish. It is also sent out over KJLY’s sister stations in New Ulm and Mankato.
While Elizabeth Martinez is not back cooking in El Tio’s, she is still cooking at home. Last Tuesday night she was making a fajita supper for 40 or so friends and relatives gathered at their home in Blue Earth to celebrate Ismael Martinez’s 48th birthday.
“God has been very good to me and my family,” he says. “I am very thankful for everything.”