El Rey grocery store on 51st & Oklahoma reopens following fire

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) — Neighborhood grocery store El Rey reopened Friday, January 18th after being closed for two weeks following a fire.

The fire broke out around 11:00 p.m. on January 3rd at the El Rey store on 51st and Oklahoma. The fire spread to the roof and portions of the roofing material that comes into the inside of the building, causing substantial smoke damage.

The Milwaukee Health Department ordered the store to get rid of everything except glass bottles, hard plastic bottles or canned goods — meaning a whole lot of product had to be tossed — about $290,000 worth!

The running total for damage and renovations thus far is more than $700,000. 

"We weren't able to keep anything perishable or anything that didn't have a proper seal," said El Rey co-owner Nelson Lang.

After a lot of cleaning, employees were allowed back inside on Tuesday, January 15th to restock shelves.

On Friday, customers were welcomed back with fully stocked shelves of fresh produce and baked goods.

"My son comes here every Friday, so Friday is a good day.  He loves churros, so that's why we're here," said Michelle Velasquez.

"With the grace of God, we got it open with the help of the restoration company and all our employees working two and three shifts to get it going," said El Rey co-owner Olivia Villarreal.

Police took two 17-year-old suspects into custody the day after the fire. Police say video surveillance caught the teens outside the store just before the fire started.

No charges have yet been filed.

"i was just sad.  sad for the owners, sad for the community and I'm glad they're back open," said customer Edwin Robles.  "But whoever did it, I hope that they're prosecuted."

Police are still investigating whether the fire was arson.  Many on Friday were hoping for answers, including the owners.  But they say the focus now is moving forward.

"We're happy about that and trying to forget about these last 2 weeks of inconvenience," said Lang.

Lang says there is still more work to be done.  The outside of the building has to be repaired and the restaurant is undergoing renovations after it sustained heavy smoke damage from the fire.  He expects the restaurant to be back open after a week and a half.

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