By Sean Miner
Long Lake resident Felipe Villalpando has been working hard for the last half-decade.
By his estimate, he’s put in upwards of 60 hours many weeks managing a restaurant in the town’s bustling business district. He’s a familiar face to regular patrons.
A few months ago, Villalpando was asked if he wanted to buy the restaurant, and enthusiastically began the process to do so.
“I’m trying to buy the place right now,” said Villalpando. “That’s been one of my dreams, since when I came to the United States.”
The restaurant that Villalpando has spent four years managing is El Parian.
In August, the restaurant’s previous owner, Aldo Escoto, was indicted on with 46 federal charges, most of them related to drug trafficking. The charges alleged that Escoto used restaurants he owned as cover for the illicit activities.
Those accusations, says Villalpando, have nothing to do with the restaurant he’s poured his time into for the last several years.
“We have nothing to do with drugs over here,” said Villalpando. “And laundering money? We haven’t received a dime over here from the outside. I know what’s going on here; I’m here, open to close, open to close.”
Villalpando described Escoto’s ownership of the restaurant as very hands-off. He noted that he couldn’t speak for any activities that might have taken place at the two other El Parian restaurants, in Eagan and Lakeville.
“I can respond for this place — I know what’s going on over here,” said Villalpando. “Aldo, he didn’t come around very much. When he did, he just checked things from the door.”
Asked if he had reason to believe the charges might be true for the other restaurants, Villalpando said he couldn’t be sure.
“I don’t follow [Escoto], I don’t know what’s going on — I have nothing to do with the other restaurants,” said Villalpando. “All I’m trying to say is I’m not involved with drugs, or laundering money. I brought my two boys up from Georgia — if I were involved with those things, I would never do that.”
His eldest son, Felipe Jr., works at El Parian, as well. Felipe Jr. supported his father’s assessment of the restaurant.
“He knows this place like no one else,” said Felipe Jr. “We’ve been here for so long, and there’s never been anything fishy back here.”
Villalpando does not yet own El Parian, but is pushing forward with the transfer of ownership. All that remains is a liquor license from the city being issued in his name. He said that he expected that process to take another four or five weeks.
He said that he is buying El Parian because of the connections he has built with the Long Lake community.
“I would never buy this place if we had been selling drugs and doing all that,” said Villalpando. “I love my boys. I love my family. I would never involve my family with problems like that.”
Turning over a new leaf
Business has been slow since the charges were filed against Escoto. Villalpando thanked those in the community who continued to support the business amid the controversy.
“Almost 90 percent of the customers, they know me,” said Villalpando. “They know who I am — that’s why they keep coming back.
“I’m just saying thank you to everyone — thank you for coming,” he added.
Even so, Villalpando said that a few changes are in order, in part to make the transfer of ownership even more concrete. Other changes, he said, have been motivated by his experience managing the restaurant.
“I am changing some things over here,” said Villalpando. “I’m probably going to have to change the name. When I first started working here, I didn’t know anything about business. Now, I’ve learned a lot of things, and I’m changing some of them.”
Another charge filed against Escoto was that he employed undocumented workers in his restaurants, and this was the only charge towards which Villalpando responded with anything other than impassioned denial.
“I’m not going to lie to you, we did have a few [undocumented workers],” said Villalpando. “But everyone is legal now.”
Those workers, said Villalpando, had all been legal for quite some time, as well. He said that restaurants hiring undocumented persons was not uncommon, but his interest lies entirely on the right side of the law.
“All these people here, including me — we are here, working, day by day,” said Villalpando. “We’re completely clean.”
Regarding Donald Trump supporters
Villalpando had some choice words for views expressed by a business consultant speaking on his behalf, which appeared in a previous Pioneer article.
Luis Caire, whom Villalpando hired to aide in the transfer of ownership, expressed that Donald Trump supporters were unwelcome at the restaurant. Caire has since retracted his statements, labeling them as sarcasm — Villalpando was eager to set the record straight with regards to El Parian.
“I’m so sorry about that — it’s got nothing to do with me,” said Villalpando. “I don’t know what he was thinking. He was helping me to get my new liquor license. He was supposed to talk to me
before saying anything to the local news.”
Villalpando stressed that absolutely everyone was welcome at El Parian.
“Everyone, even Donald Trump, he is welcome to come to my restaurant,” said Villalpando. “I don’t do politics with the business. I was so angry with Luis about this.”
Felipe Jr. noted that the restaurant had received angry phone calls and other communication about Caire’s comments. He expressed frustration at being unable to set the record straight.
“They just get mad, and I can’t explain anything,” he said. “It affected our business, and we’re taking it back, because we never said it in the first place.”
As for Caire, the Villalpandos expressed that his views were his own, not the restaurant’s.
“He is nothing to this place,” said Felipe Jr. “We just hired him to renew our liquor license.”
Hopes for the future
Villalpando expressed some worry about the restaurant’s prospects, but also hope.
“I’m just waiting to see how everything’s going to be, with these problems,” he said. “If everything’s going to be okay, I’m going to move my family here from Georgia.”
He said he understood why people would be scared, thinking that the charges against Escoto included El Parian in Long Lake. But those charges, he stressed, don’t describe the El Parian he knows so well.
“I’m buying this place because I love the town,” said Villalpando. “It’s so wonderful. I just love it over here.
“That’s why I’m buying this place,” added Villalpando. “To make my dreams come true.”