El Tio opens amidst pandemic, thankful for community
Imagine working hard to get ready to open your new restaurant.
Then finally, the big day happens. And, two days later, the governor of Minnesota orders all bars and restaurants in the state to close down due to the COVID-19 Pandemic and coronavirus fears.
That is exactly what happened to Maria Aguirre and William Sarmiento and their business partner Axel Chavez.
The three opened El Tio Mexican Restaurant in Blue Earth on Saturday, March 14. Then on Monday, March 16, came the governor’s executive order that their restaurant and every other one in the state, had to shut down indefinitely the next day.
“So we had customers inside the restaurant for only two days,” Sarmiento says. “It was bad. We had lots of food here that we had ordered for our opening. And we had to throw a lot of it away into the garbage.”
He explains the state health department only lets restaurants keep food in a cooler for a certain number of days. So a lot of their food supplies ended up in the garbage.
The three have stayed open, however, doing a lot of carry out order business.
“The people of Blue Earth have been very good to us,” Aguirre says. “They have been doing a lot of calling and getting orders from us. We are so thankful for that.”
Sarmiento says the people of Elmore have also have been very good customers, coming up to Blue Earth just to pick up orders.
The three new owners of El Tio rent the building from former El Tio owner Ismael Martinez. The building has also seen a lot of improvements from the time it closed nearly two years ago.
And one big new addition is a bar in one corner of the dining room. The El Tio owners have gotten a beer, wine and liquor license from the city of Blue Earth.
“Of course, we can’t serve anything now, because that is shut down, too,” Aguirre says. “I guess we can’t do take out Margaritas,” she jokes.
But, Sarmiento adds that once they can open again, they will have Margaritas, beer and lots of other drinks available.
They also plan to have an outdoor patio area this summer.
The three new owners have many years of restaurant experience between the three of them.
Maria Aguirre has 30 years of experience. She was involved in a restaurant in Fairmont called El Mariachi, which was sold in 2007 and the name changed to El Agave.
“Years before that, I was involved in the El Mariachi Restaurant in Austin,” she says. “My ex-husband still owns and operates that one.”
And way before that, when she first came to the U.S. from Mexico, she was working at a Mexican restaurant in South Carolina.
William Sarmiento, originally from El Salvador, has about 12 years of restaurant experience in several restaurants as well.
And Axel Chavez has been a cook at both the El Agave restaurant in Fairmont and the other one in St. Peter, plus he has been a cook at a Chinese restaurant in Fairmont.
He will be the head chef at the new El Tio Restaurant.
“Axel is a very good cook, very good and very quick,” Sarmiento says. “The people in Blue Earth are going to be able to trust his food, that it will be very excellent. Our food service is very good and very fast service.”
The restaurant has a full menu of items with tacos, fajitas, burritos, flautas and much, much more. They also feature steaks, soups and salads, and Mexican seafood dishes.
“We do have a very large menu,” Sarmiento says. “We have something for everyone.”
They are now open (for takeout only) seven days a week and taking orders at their new phone number of 526-2477.
Sarmiento and Aguirre, with their son, Christo, currently live in Fairmont, but they both say they want to move to Blue Earth as soon as they can find a place.
“I started out 30 years ago in South Carolina,” Aguirre says. “Now we are starting out in Blue Earth,” she and Sarmiento add. “And we are happy to be here.”