By Evan J. Pretzer

Sitting in the El Fuego Mexican Family Restaurant on Grand Avenue, you get a sense that those who run the business put a uniquely personal touch into the building. Scarves depicting colors associated with the Mexican flag adorn tables, decorative sombreros line walls and a fridge is fully stocked with various drinks normally seen closer to the Rio Grande in Texas.

For Stevens Point resident Tavo Perez, that is the goal of his latest business venture with wife Connie. Originally from Mexico, Perez came to Wisconsin in 1995 and has worked in restaurants all his life. He previously owned a pizza place in Stevens Point called Octaviano’s. Now, Perez is bringing his take on authentic Mexican food to residents of Wausau at El Fuego, 2105 Grand Ave., Wausau.

“We want it to be as authentic as possible,” he said Tuesday. “Obviously there’s always the typical stuff people look for, but my goal is for those people to take the opportunity to see where real and authentic Mexican food is, I think sometimes people are afraid to try it.”

Located beside the now-shuttered Ponderosa Motel, the El Fuego menu includes a dessert with churros and ice cream, steak ranchero and more commonly known items like tacos and quesadillas. The restaurant, the former Eagles Nest location and one-time site of Ravioli’s, has been open since May. Though its hours are generous now — the restaurant is usually open from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. — Perez wants to open earlier in the near future and educate the public about Mexican breakfast.

“We’ll do a few more different things as we go along on our menu,” Perez said. “There is so much more I want people to see, particularly with breakfast. I’d try to get people to consider eggs with salsa or even tortillas. It would be great to show people something besides a typical breakfast with bacon.”

Food is not among the most pressing challenges for Perez in his new venture. Having worked in restaurants since he was 15, the owner (and occasional cook) instead named a nearby piece of real estate he feels is a concern for potential customers: the charred remains of the former Ponderosa Hotel next door. The hotel was badly damaged by an August 2015 blaze and has been closed ever since.

“It has been challenging to bring people so far,” he said. “It is a little hard for people to stop in with the creepy motel next door, but I’m happy to be in the Wausau area. My wife and I had been looking for a while, we’re finally here and I believe we’ll hopefully stay for a long time.”

If you’d like to know more about the El Fuego Mexican Family Restaurant, call 715-298-5522 or go to

Evan J. Pretzer is a journalist and multimedia professional originally from Saskatchewan, Canada. To learn more about him, visit
Top photo credit: Evan J. Pretzer/Wausau Pilot and Review