Longtime Eagan restaurant owner dies

Octaviano ‘Otis’ Trujillo was in the business for 40 years

Octaviano "Otis" Trujillo
Octaviano “Otis” Trujillo

Octaviano “Otis” Trujillo, the longtime owner of La Fonda de Los Lobos Mexican restaurant in Eagan, died on Saturday night from complications due to cancer. He was 73.

Trujillo, of Apple Valley, was known for his friendly demeanor and providing a restaurant experience that was many things to many people.

With a main level family dining room above the lower-level sports bar and gaming area, many people remember good times and good food at the restaurant that went through several name changes since it originally opened in 1976.

“Providing jobs for local people and being part of the community has been the most rewarding part of owning La Fonda,” Trujillo said in a 2016 Sun Thisweek story to mark the restaurant’s 40th year. “It’s become my passion. It’s all I do.”

He’s provided jobs to longtime employees along with college students and single parents who used it as a stepping stone to other jobs.

The family said on the restaurant’s Facebook page:

“It is with great, heart-felt sadness that the La Fonda family and our community lost our owner, mentor, friend and father, Otis Trujillo, on Saturday evening after a short, courageous, hard-fought battle with cancer.”

The family asked for privacy at this time, but added the business will stay open.

“As Otis would wish, we are open regular hours and will be happy to see everyone who visits. We are just having a hard time wrapping our heads around our emotions, so answering a lot of questions will be hard.”

They said details about a public celebration of Otis’ life are pending.

“And it will be a party,” they said. “Again, it’s the only way Otis would want it.”

The Facebook post has been responded to by more than 650 messages of support as of Thursday.

Many used extended comments or anecdotes, describing him as a sweet, kind, loving and generous man.

The 2016 newspaper story said Trujillo opened La Fonda de Acebo in 1976 with a group of business partners as a part of a chain of 13 restaurants.

In 1981, Trujillo’s partners bought him out and he moved to Denver where he opened several Mexican restaurants called Los Lobos.

In 1992, his former partners went bankrupt, and Trujillo bought La Fonda back changing its name to La Fonda de Los Lobos.

“I decided to give it another go because I still had the desire to make it work,” he said in the 2016 story.

He continued to live in Denver and run his businesses there for about 10 years. In 2002 he sold those restaurants and moved to the Eagan area to focus on La Fonda.

When La Fonda opened its doors in 1976, Cedarvale Mall was a new state-of-the-art strip mall, Highway 13 was a two-lane road and the city of Eagan was just 2 years old.

Much has changed over the past four decades, and La Fonda has made a few changes to keep up with the times, but its soul has remained the same. That soul is the cooking of recipes from Trujillo’s mother, Mama Feloniz, who is featured on the restaurant’s website.

“Our menu and customer service has stayed the same,” Trujillo said in 2016. “And this is what brings people back and turns people into loyal customers.”

Trujillo’s business has endured the economic ups and downs of the Cedarvale and now Cedar Grove area, whose center is just southwest of La Fonda on Highway 13.

Prior to redevelopment efforts to build Twin Cities Premium Outlets along with other commercial and residential projects, the Cedarvale Mall went vacant and the area’s vitality declined.

But Trujillo and the business persevered, and his effort to improve the business have kept it a vital part of the area.

Contact Tad Johnson at [email protected] or at twitter.com/editorTJ.