Alumni National Awards

All-University Award Recipients


Elizabeth Villarreal Lang, Arts '03, and
Nelson C. Lang, H Sci '04
Sussex, Wis.

With a reputation as Milwaukee’s best source of authentic Mexican food products, El Rey is more than a thriving chain of specialty grocery stores. It’s also an immigrant success story and a family business through and through. Just ask Elizabeth and her husband, Nelson, who now run El Rey with Liz’s siblings and cousins.

Liz’s father, Ernesto Villarreal, and his brother, Heriberto, came to Milwaukee from Mexico in the 1960s and opened the first Super Mercado El Rey in 1978, offering customers high-quality but hard-to-find products for Mexican and Latin-influenced recipes.

Then and now, El Rey’s owners have committed to making a difference: El Rey provides more than 400 jobs, supports local schools, churches and events, and contributes resources to advance Milwaukee’s Hispanic community.

In 2016 the Langs created the El Rey Endowed Scholarship Fund at Marquette, where they met as undergraduates.

“Our hope for this scholarship is to give students from Milwaukee’s South Side the opportunity to attend Marquette,” Nelson says. “Marquette and Milwaukee’s South Side are both dear to us, and we look forward to the day that connections form between the two on this scholarship’s behalf.”

Liz, who says she “grew up playing under my parents’ desk and on the cash registers” at El Rey, chose to attend Marquette to stay near her close-knit family, and because “Marquette’s mission of excellence, faith, leadership and service are the same values our parents instilled in us.”

Nelson, who hails from Sycamore, Ill., followed his sister, Jessica Swedberg, H Sci ’01, to Marquette. Soon after he began dating Liz, he also started working part time at El Rey. After graduation, the Langs pursued careers in health care in Virginia, but returned to Milwaukee to help Liz’s parents open a new El Rey location. Today, the couple manages the newest El Rey market, which they also designed.

“It is an honor to carry on the El Rey legacy as a family business dedicated to serving Milwaukee and the Hispanic community,” Liz says, adding that she enjoys being able to work with her husband.

The business has raised funds for the Wisconsin Hispanic Scholarship Foundation for the past 18 years through a golf event in partnership with Mexican Fiesta, an annual celebration of Mexican heritage. The two organizations have also created a community event to celebrate Three Kings Day, where they give gifts to hundreds of children in attendance.

For the Langs, living out the Marquette mission is intentional. “We try to lead by example,” Liz says, “with a strong faith in God, helping those in need and our constant desire to learn and grow.”