Poor Richard’s serves up slice of downtown revival

Victoria and Cristian Diaz at Poor Richard’s Pizza and Bar in Downtown Porterville.(Rigo Moran)

Local pizzeria recognized as outstanding business by the City of Porterville for bringing the love to downtown

PORTERVILLE – Love blossoms in unexpected ways, and the love the Diaz family has for a storied downtown Porterville pizzeria has blossomed into a business that is reshaping the neighborhood and building a brighter future, earning the restaurant recognition as an Outstanding Business Honoree by the city.

The pizzeria was recognized on May 7 by the City of Porterville for its part in renewing interest and increasing foot traffic to downtown Porterville, as noted in the announcement from the city.

For its story, co-owner Victoria Diaz said it all started when was working at Poor Richards Pizza and Bar, then owned by founder Mike Freeman. It was there that she met a customer named Christian Diaz, who would one day become her husband, the father of her three children and the other co-owner of the iconic pizza joint.

Victoria spoke with The Sun-Gazette about the journey that began with falling in love and led to loving downtown. The Diaz family purchased the restaurant at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when small businesses were failing and dreams were being challenged. She said that she and her husband had always seen opportunities to make Poor Richards into something even better than it was, and it was a fateful day when they saw the “For Sale” sign go up on the place where they had first met.

“It’s special to us,” Victoria said. “We put a lot of our heart and our time into the place. The place is really special to us.”

Diaz said the decision to buy the restaurant was an easy one to make. After having worked there and being regular customers, the Diaz’s had a strong relationship with Freeman and had ideas about how to take the local spot to the next level.

“We had always talked to Mike about ‘Why don’t you do this?,’ but he was just tired and not interested in doing a lot,” Victoria said. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she said she and Richard would take their daughters to a local coffee shop and drive around the area, since there wasn’t much else for them to do, and that was when they stumbled across the “For Sale” sign on the restaurant.

“It was almost like we had spoken this into existence,” she said. “We jumped on it, and the family was excited because of the history we have with them, so they figured out a way to make it happen.”

Victoria added that it was a life changing time, in part because the opportunity came about due to the pandemic. The Diaz family seized on the opportunity to propel the local favorite to new heights, and their innovations in the business have improved the customer experience and have added to the energy customers get.

“It was really dark when you went in – really quiet, so you’d have to whisper,” Diaz said. “We’ve added TVs, there is music playing all the time, so you don’t have to worry about whether the couple at the next table over is listening to my conversation. We added fountain dispensers, we have beer in bottles, we have beer on draft. We added everything the business was wanting. We are utilizing all the potential the business has.”

Adding televisions has allowed Poor Richards to become a sports haven. Victoria said that any game anyone wants to watch, they can get it there. The restaurant also has other regular events that help bring energy to the neighborhood. Friday nights have live music that frequently features local bands, while Saturday’s have events like karaoke nights.

What has really made Poor Richards a special spot is more than just the new energy the Diaz family has added. The family actively seeks opportunities to collaborate with other local restaurants and bars to put on events. Victoria said that one of her hopes is to do a “Zombie” night involving other area businesses to transform the neighborhood into a fun-filled apocalypse.

“I have always loved throwing parties, it’s just something I do with my family,” she said. “Now I have a whole restaurant and a community to join me instead of a small family gathering. I honestly love doing these things, being creative, and pour my ideas into events and run them by my staff.”

Victoria said the business is currently hiring and one of the attributes she looks for is creative people who are looking to make a difference in the community.

“There are so many young people that want to work here because it is a fun environment,” she said. “It’s cool to know we are bringing back that younger generation.”

Diaz said that her love story with her husband was not just the catalyst for their own story, but that Poor Richards has become a beacon for love. 

“We have seen it happen, seen people meet each other, leave together, we have a lot of first dates happen there,” Diaz said. “We always say that Poor Richards is the place to come and find your first love.”

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