Mike’s Pastry recently opened its doors in Harvard Square—giving customers a taste of the famous desserts and family atmosphere that made the pastry shop a staple of the North End.
Walk into the brand-new Mike’s Pastry in Harvard Sq. and the duo of James Caterino and Danielle Papa will make sure you don’t have to wait long for a cannoli.
Caterino approaches from the kitchen, carrying a tray of fresh black and white cookies, whoopee pies, and chocolate chip cannoli. His apron has turned from a navy color to a chalky white—decorated with frosting remnants and sugary filling. Papa takes the order, quickly grabbing two cannoli from under the counter. She sprinkles a dash of powdered sugar on the savory desserts before placing the treats in the iconic white “Mike’s Pastry” box and tying a knot with string suspended from the blue and white orbs hanging from the ceiling. The two exchange banter between orders, and the next crowd of customers piles through the door.
“We’ve really enjoy working here so far,” Papa said. “Everybody has been super excited about the new location, and the feedback we’ve received has been great.”
Papa and Caterino are both managing supervisors at the new Mike’s Pastry located in Harvard Sq. After 67 years with a single location in Boston’s North End, the pastry shop opened its doors in Cambridge mid-November.
“We were very comfortable in our North End store, and it was basically nailed down to a science over there,” Caterino said. “We knew we could move somewhere else, based on the work ethic shown in our family-run business.”
The story of the family business dates back to the early 20th century. Michael Mercogliano moved to the North End when he was just 9-years-old. His family came over on a boat straight from Italy with virtually nothing: no money, no job prospects, and no formal education. Mercogliano’s education came at his cousin’s bakery in a dilapidated North End building in the early 1900s, where he developed a flair for the cannoli.
Mercogliano went on to establish the original Mike’s Pastry in 1946. Ever since, the iconic store has become a staple in Boston, and world-renown for its tasty treats and cannoli, blue-and-white pastry boxes, and crowds lined up outside the door on a daily basis.
“Mike is probably one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever known,” Caterino said. “His story has really touched and inspired me to make sure the business and product itself are still up to the quality that Mike first created.”
Mike’s Pastry has never spent a cent on advertising, but gained international recognition after former President Bill Clinton invited Mercogliano and his wife Annette to a steak dinner at the White House in 1995. Also on the guest list was former Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, as well as big names like Jon Bon Jovi, Italian-actress Sophia Loren, and former New York City mayor Mario Cuomo. On his second trip to back to the North End, Clinton also picked up 75 cannoli for his Air Force One entourage, as well as a rum cake for himself.
“Even 20 years after the Clinton story, business has been overwhelming,” Caterino said. “We knew we had the commitment to make a move successful, so the only question was how to decide where we wanted to go.”
Mike’s was looking at a number of locations across Boston—many of them smaller neighborhoods in suburbs of the city. The organization based its final decision on a number of criteria: neighborhood, foot traffic, popularity, and historic value were all components. Just over a year ago, Mike’s Pastry decided its best option was to take its business across the river.
“Cambridge has been the perfect fit for us,” Papa said. “The city officials and residents here have been very supportive of us and made transitioning so much easier. We have seen so many students, businesses, locals, and other regular Mike’s customers come check us out to see what our new spot is all about.”
Despite its smaller size, Mike’s Pastry in Harvard Sq. remains family-owned and operated, just like the iconic North End store. Caterino and Papa have been dating for ten years, and are planning on getting married this upcoming October. The two met in high school and started the relationship toward the end of their college years—just about the same time Caterino started working at as a part-time assistant at Mike’s Pastry. Papa’s father is also Angelo Papa, who runs all of the operations at the North End shop, and her grandfather is the original Mike Mercogliano.
“I like to say that I married into the family,” Caterino said. “Obviously, Danielle’s grandfather is the famous Mike, and I had known them all very well because we’ve been close since high school.”
Caterino learned all aspects of the family business from the ground-up. He began his tenure filling pastries and adding finishing touches to the final products back in college. Now, he works more of a direct managerial position at the new location with his fiancee, and hopes the business will continue to grow in the future.
“I feel like I’ve learned so much here already, and I just hope our crazy success stays steady in the future,” Caterino said. “My goal for us is become a staple of Harvard—just like Mike’s is a staple of the North End.”
The move to Harvard Sq. comes in the wake of Mercogliano’s death just two years ago. Although he is no longer present to serve cannoli to the thousands of patrons that visit his stores each week, Caterino and Papa believe a part of Mike Mercogliano will always be in Harvard Sq.
“I think that, in a way, this move to Cambridge is a tribute to him and his legacy,” Caterino said. “I think he always wanted to see it, but maybe the timing before just wasn’t right. All I know is that we think of him and his spirit everyday.”
Featured Images by Arthur Bailin / Heights Staff