READING — Mike Pullano is nearing retirement, but you wouldn’t know it if you dropped in at the Pike Café for lunch. Pullano, who has owned the iconic Reading establishment since 1985, greets every customer like an old friend. Many of them are.
“The Pike Café has been my whole life since I was 24,” he said. “I met so many good people over the years, whether they were just a customer that came in once a year, or came in once a week, or came in every day.”
Since he turned 62, Pullano has been thinking about his future.
“I want to reevaluate, because I’ve been in business here for 40 years,” he said. “I want to reevaluate, decide what to do in the last quarter of my life.”
In late 2021 he decided to sell the Pike, as well as Shirley’s Café and Tequila Bar in Laureldale, to Kyle Riggs and Danny and Vince DiStefano, owners of Paradise by the Slice in Wernersville. The sale is still pending and will likely be finalized in late July or early August.
“‘If you want to buy the two most successful mom-and-pop restaurants in Berks County,” Pullano recalls saying, “you have to look no further.’ We both made a deal we couldn’t refuse.”
Mike Pullano, right, owner of the Pike Café in Reading with Kyle Riggs, left, co-owner of Paradise by the Slice in Wernersville at the Pike Café. (WES CIPOLLA – MEDIANEWS GROUP PHOTO)
Pullano and Riggs met three years ago through a bartender who worked part-time at both the Pike and Paradise by the Slice. Riggs and the DiStefanos have made frequent visits to the Pike, observing the restaurant’s inner workings and building relationships with the clientele.
“They’re really good people, and they know what they’re doing,” Pullano said. “They are running Paradise by the Slice, and what made me trust them the most, was their plan to keep everything the same.”
The outdoor dining area at the Pike Café in Reading. (MEDIANEWS GROUP FILE PHOTO)
The Pike’s new owners plan to keep the menu and staff intact.
“Just continuing the tradition,” Riggs said. “It’s the same friendly people you always knew.”
Riggs likes to say that he and Shirley’s Café are both redheaded stepchildren.
“The Pike alone is a monster,” he said. “And Paradise is my little beast out in Wernersville. We joke around that we’re so focused on the Pike, we can forget about Shirley’s. That little beast is a well-oiled machine.”
In his retirement, Pullano plans to “take a chill pill” and help Riggs out with running the restaurants. He also wants to do more volunteer work with charities such as Hope Rescue Mission. As he often does, he quoted Lonnie Walker, saying “I’m just a kid from Reading.”
“I’m staying in Reading,” Pullano said. “I’m not moving to Florida. I put my time in, I’ve been in the city for 40 years. I still believe in the city of Reading.”
So does Riggs, who wants to introduce special events at the Pike like Pullano did. He hopes these events will attract more people to the city.
“Everyone knows the Pike and what Mike built here,” Riggs said. “No one can operate better than what Mike has built. He gave people a reason to come into Reading.”
Pullano wants the Pike, his legacy, to live on.
“I want them to remember I gave everything I got,” he said. “I gave everything I had to this city. What do I want them to remember about me? That I did the right thing. I was the better person. And I tried to give the customers what they wanted over the years.”