How Mike The Balloon Guy Became Part Of Pittsburgh’s Culinary History

For decades, the Squirrel Hill resident has been a fixture at local restaurants.


Mike Evans has worked in dozens of Pittsburgh restaurants over the past 30 years, but he’s never cooked a meal, served a customer, bussed a table or washed a dish. 

The Squirrel Hill resident makes a living making balloon animals for captive audiences at local eateries and long-gone chains.

I unexpectedly met Evans, known professionally as Mike the Balloon Guy, at Bado’s Pizza Grille & Ale House in Mt. Lebanon. As I sat at the bar nursing a beer, he burst through the front door with his rolling balloon cart. By the time I finished my pint, I was decked out in an air-filled hat, bracelet, ray gun, two swords and holster. 

Ballonguy2You’re never too old to wear an outfit that really pops.

He’s been pumping up dinner crowds at Bado’s since 1998. Reading his “eatertainment” resume made me nostalgic (and hungry) for former hotspots that went out of business: Damon’s The Place for Ribs, Chi-Chi’s, Philthy McNasty’s Bar & Grille, Kangaroos Outback Cafe, Club Zoo, The Italian Oven and Fuddruckers.  

On Fridays and Saturdays from 6 to 8 p.m. you can find Evans at Monte Cello’s in Cranberry, where he creates everything from latex unicorns, fairy wings and dinosaurs to hotdogs, popsicles and Carmen Miranda-inspired, fruit-filled headgear.

The twisted story of Mike the Balloon Guy began in Boston, where Evans and his twin brother Arthur were born.  

In an attempt to give the identical siblings their own identities, their grandmother bought Arthur a model rocket-making kit and Mike a magician’s bag of tricks. Before he hit his teens he was performing sleight-of-hand acts at birthday parties.

One day, while visiting a magic shop to stock up on supplies, the proprietor showed him how to make a balloon dog. 

With a few folds, squeezes and twists he had a pup. Evans walked out of the store with a bag of balloons, a book on inflatable art and his head in the clouds. After a lifelong battle with stage fright, he enjoyed the one-on-one interactions with children and adults who stood in line to watch him literally turn their ideas into a reality. 

His wife, Abbie, who he calls the heart and soul of the operation, is the office manager and coordinates the calendar. Their eldest son, Nathaniel, is a music teacher who uses balloon art as a way to connect with his students. 

The couple is looking to hire more balloon artists. 

“It’s a really awesome thing for college kids to do,” Evans says. “I have them for four years, they can work for a few hours on nights and weekends, and they will make a ton of money doing it. There’s no way on the planet I could do this all by myself.”



Each new balloon recruit gets their own mobile cart that Evans builds based on his own design. 

The contraption is filled with a rainbow assortment of biodegradable balloons that are longer and thicker than your average birthday party decoration, a hand pump and one that’s battery-operated to help artists keep up with the demand. After a little hands-on training, he sets the newbies free. YouTube and TikTok are currently blowing up with balloon-twisting tutorials.



The only time Evans’s bubble of happiness bursts is when customers get bent out of shape about his shift ending. 

Even when an employee stands on cue in a fluorescent vest with the words “end of the line” on the back, some folks feel deflated. But, the bad behavior is overshadowed by the smiles he sees on people’s faces as they place a zany hat on their head and raise a balloon sword. (Want your creation to last longer? Pop it in the refrigerator.) 

“I like when I can reach kids who are shy, or autistic or sad for some reason,” Evans says. “At the end of the day, balloon twisting is all about the interaction.”

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