Entrepreneurs realize a shared dream in America

Gino Billeci and Manuel Molina have a lot in common in addition to their shared ownership of Rocky’s Pizza, a Reading institution that’s celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Rocky’s Pizza, 445 Spring St. in Reading, is celebrating its 50th anniversary. (BILL UHRICH – READING EAGLE)

Both men are gregarious, love to cook and are ambitious entrepreneurs. They embrace hard work and don’t mind the long hours associated with the hospitality industry. And both moved from another country with a dream of starting and running a successful business in the United States.

“When you have a dream you should follow it,” said Molina while taking a break from preparing his fried chicken, a favorite with customers at Rocky’s, located on the corner of North Fifth and Spring streets in Reading.

Billeci’s move to Pennsylvania began as a three-week vacation in 1999. He was 14 years old and coming to visit his older sister, who was living in Reading.

“I came here for vacation and never went back,” he said.

After working various jobs at different restaurants for 11 years, Billeci opened Gino’s Café in Shillington in 2010.

“I was only 25 and wasn’t sure if it would work out when I bought it, but I worked hard and the café has done well,” he said. “After that I was able to buy some other places.”

Billeci also owns Blue Marsh Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria in Bern Township and recently purchased the Shillington Laundromat, located next to Gino’s Café on Broad Street. He renamed it the Shillington Family Laundromat and plans to replace the appliances and make other improvements.

In addition, he owns several apartment buildings and previously owned or co-owned other businesses, including Mike and Gino’s on the Avenue in Cumru Township.

“There is a lot of dreaming you can do here,” Billeci said. “I go to Italy to visit my family when I can, but this is my home.”

Molina moved to the United States from Mexico in 1992 and found work in area restaurants. He also drove a delivery truck for Conshohocken Bakery.

“I wanted to work hard and save as much as I could to be able to open my own business,” Molina said.

While Molina was delivering bread and rolls to Gino’s Café, he and Billeci struck up a friendship. Knowing Molina was looking for an opportunity, Billeci proposed partnering on Rocky’s when it became available for sale three years ago. Molina was quick to agree.

“I always thought I would do something on my own, but I met Gino, and we get along like brothers,” Molina said. “We bought this restaurant and it’s been very good.”

The partners are open to another opportunity if one would present itself.

“We’re open to trying something else as long as it makes good business sense and is something we want to do,” Billeci said.

Rocky's Pizza, 445 Spring St. in Reading, is celebrating its 50th anniversary. A sample of Rocky's pizza offerings. (BILL UHRICH - READING EAGLE)Rocky’s Pizza, 445 Spring St. in Reading, is celebrating its 50th anniversary. A sample of Rocky’s pizza offerings. (BILL UHRICH – READING EAGLE)

For now, Molina runs Rocky’s, which in addition to fried chicken offers pizza, Italian meals, sandwiches, salads, wings, some Spanish-style foods, delivery and catering.

Billeci tends to Blue Marsh, the Café and his other ventures. Molina’s wife and daughter are involved with the day-to-day operations of Rocky’s, and Billeci’s fiancé, Alisha Sobotka, helps with the operation of the laundromat, often with her and Billeci’s 15-month-old daughter, Francesca, in tow.

“Francesca already loves to eat chicken fingers and pasta with sauce,” Billeci said proudly, his face lighting up. “I’m going to start selling my homemade sauce in a jar with her picture on the label and call it Daddy’s Sauce.”

Daddy’s Sauce may be Billeci’s latest idea, but it’s a pretty good bet that it won’t be the last venture he and Molina pursue.

“If there are opportunities, we’ll definitely look into them,” Billeci said.

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