From Mexico with love

of good food and an adopted community

Angel Tello was photographed in his Port Washington restaurant standing before a Mexican-themed mural.
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

Most people know Angel Tello as the owner of Tello’s Grille & Catering in Port Washington, which he has operated since 2006.

But Tello’s expertise in the food industry took shape decades before that and 2,000 miles away.

His journey started on his family’s farm with dairy cows and chickens in Guanajuato, Mexico.

Tello’s grandfather started the farm and his father reluctantly kept it going.

“He didn’t really care for cows,” Tello said. “But it was our way of living.”

Tello’s mother catered for parties and weddings.

“Growing up, you’re either working in the field or watching your mom cook,” he said.

The family had seven children — Tello is the second oldest and one of two boys, and he learned the value of hard work when he was young.

“If I wanted chicken soup, all I had to do is get up early and grab a nice rooster,” he said.

Tello worked at a car wash in the nearby larger city of Celaya. His tip money nearly equalled his father’s earnings.

His parents wanted Tello to go to college, but he had other ideas. He remembers visits from his cousins after they immigrated to America.

“They came back with lots of money and new shoes. I’m like, I want that,” Tello said.

Tello made his way to Palatine, Ill., where many former members of his village and family lived, and started working in the kitchen of a Greek restaurant. He and his cousins did everything — cooking, cleaning, opening and closing — to the point where Tello wanted to open his own restaurant.

Tello met a man who hired him to open restaurants, also featuring Greek cuisine, for him, doing everything from design of the kitchen through construction and customers walking in the door.

“He trusted me more than I trusted myself,” Tello said. “He discovered me.”

Tello began looking for a spot to open his own restaurant. He found one, but it was in a rough neighborhood in Chicago. His boss supported Tello’s dream, but told him not to open in that location.

“I kept looking around, “Tello said. “One day in September 2006 I decided to drive north and I ended up in Fredonia.”

A woman at a gas station sent him to Port Washington, he recalled, where he spotted the downtown real estate office of Re/Max United.

His brother told him the company likely only handled houses, but Tello decided to give it a shot. He went inside and was told the owner of a former hotel on Grand Avenue with restaurant space available had just left the office.

Tello and property owner Jim Read soon connected and struck a lease deal.  Tello and a few of his sisters worked for hours on Thanksgiving in 2006 to get it ready.

Tello opened his restaurant on Dec. 20.

“And here we are 15 years later,” he said.

“In this country we are so blessed. It’s one of the only countries where you are protected by law and if you work hard, dreams will come true.”

The restaurant’s menu evolved over the years from mostly Greek to mostly Mexican food.

“People kept asking for more Mexican,” Tello said.

But he still offers a gyro.

“I know how to make the tzatziki cucumber yogurt sauce for the gyro,” he said. “I learned that at the age of 17.”

Tello said he also learned to never skimp on the quality of food.

“I believe in lots of fresh ingredients. We never opened a can of mushrooms here,” he said, adding one little stem of fresh thyme is better than five pounds of the dried herb.

There’s one more ingredient that makes the menu go.

“I always said our cooking is made with lots of love, and that shows,” Tello said.

Tello’s work ethic resulted in more than restaurant ownership. When he was working in Palatine, he would go in to the restaurant on his day off to bus tables for half a day. That’s when he met a special customer, Rosabla, who later became his wife.

“She came and I opened the door for her,” he said.

Rosabla now works at Tello’s restaurant beside her husband, which entails a seven-day-a-week work schedule.

“She makes me feel like ‘I’m here, don’t worry. I’m behind you,’” Tello said.

The couple have two children.

Angel III, 22, is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a degree in entrepreneurship. He works at the restaurant and may soon be involved in an ambitious new venture. His father recently purchased the former Port Hotel building with Read and plans to reopen its well known restaurant.

Jose, 15, is a sophomore at Port High and on the wrestling team.

Tello has three sisters and brothers-in-law who work at the restaurant. Three dishes on the menu are named in honor of their native country. One is Guanajuato. Another is called Rosabla’s hometown, and the other is Michoacan, where his brother-in-law is from.

Tello has his own item as well, and the menu notes it’s his favorite. Carne a la tampiquena includes spiced and grilled Braveheart black Angus beef skirt steak with a cheese enchilada, along with corn or flour tortillas. Customers who try it tell Tello he isn’t wrong in picking it as a favorite dish.

Decades into his career, Tello, 47, has maintained his passion for running a restaurant.

“Oh gosh,” he said with a smile when asked his favorite part of restaurant operation. “I enjoy talking to people. That’s nutrition for me.”

When he sees everyone enjoying their meals, he said, “that’s a feeling I cannot even explain.”

He said he still treats every day like it’s the first day he opened.

“I still have the energy,” he said. “I think when you enjoy what you do, you do it with more love.”

Setting up the atmosphere, he said, starts with the dishwashers and travels through the servers to the customers.

“For me, meals are holy,” Tello said.

The restaurant has survived the pandemic thanks to its loyal customers.

“American people, when we need to be together, they come to support. It gives me goosebumps,” Tello said.

An overwhelming response to a Friday fish fry last year had a line of customers stretching for a block to the library waiting for as long as two and a half hours. Tello was amazed.“At the end of the day when we closed the doors, I’m like, wow,” he said.

“We don’t feel anything but love in this community. If it wasn’t for that, we are not here.”

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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