By Emily Williams-Robertshaw
Jim Davenport’s Pizza Palace officials on July 8 announced via social media that the company will be opening a second location, at the Vestavia City Center.
In less than 24 hours, the announcement had gathered hundreds of likes on Instagram and Facebook.
It should be no surprise, as the original restaurant has been a fixture in Mountain Brook Village since 1964 and owned by the same family for three generations.
“It’s been great to see,” said co-owner Amanda Thames. “We knew there would be some excitement, but this has blown us away.”
Thames co-owns Davenport’s with her cousin Yates Norris, both grandchildren of Davenport’s founders, Rex and Ardyce Hollis.
After surviving a rough pandemic year, Davenport’s is looking forward to a bright future.
“We’re glad to have 2020 behind us,” she said. “Our customers were so supportive throughout that year, but we know people are excited to get back out into the community and get back to normal.”
Introducing a Novel Bite
Davenport’s celebrated its 57th anniversary in May, a testament to the founders who introduced pizza to Birmingham.
Rex Hollis developed a love of pizza while traveling for business in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The only issue was that he couldn’t get it in his hometown.
According to the Hollis family, Rex noted that there was only one place in Alabama where you could order pizza in those days – Shakey’s. So, he decided to build a pizza palace across the street from his home on Brook Manor Drive in Mountain Brook Village.
Rex wanted the name of the restaurant to garner immediate recognition, so he named it after his childhood friend Jim “Peanut” Davenport, a professional baseball player with the San Francisco Giants and native of Siluria.
While the name was eye-catching, people in the community didn’t know very much about pizza, and the restaurant was not quick to catch on.
Rex and Ardyce would work 90-hour weeks, perfecting their recipes as well as walking pizzas to surrounding neighbors to introduce people to the new dish.
Thames grew up spending summers at the restaurant with her grandparents.
“My grandmother would take us to the restaurant, and we would play the arcade games and eat in the booths while she worked,” Thames said. “Then, I worked as a server while I was in high school, mostly during the summers but a little bit during the year.”
When Ardyce passed away in 2000, the couple’s daughters Heather Norris and Dianne McDanal began running the business with Rex until his death in 2009.
After her mother’s sudden death in 2010, Thames was asked to join the family business and take over accounting duties, where she worked in tandem with Norris, who passed away in 2019.
The restaurant’s recipe for success is a dedication to consistency and tradition, according to Thames. The world around may be ever-changing, but the pizza dough, sauce and house salad dressing remain the same concoctions created by Ardyce Hollis.
“Almost everything has remained the same, and we try to keep it that way,” Thames said. “We know that customers have been eating here for decades and we want it to feel the same for them each time they come.”
Second Try in Vestavia
Back in the ‘80s, Davenport’s had a location in Vestavia Hills that was quite successful, but the restaurant had to be closed when the building was sold.
“People still to this day ask about the Vestavia Davenport’s and talk about it, so it is exciting to be able to say that we are coming back to Vestavia,” Thames said.
The family has been discussing opening a second location for many years, but the pieces to the puzzle had not fallen into place until owners began touring the recently renovated Vestavia City Center.
“It is just the perfect fit for us,” Thames said. “We went there a few times while we were exploring it as an option and we were blown away by the atmosphere.”
Managed by Crawford Square Real Estate Advisors, the space was overhauled just before the pandemic. A patio area was covered in synthetic turf and outfitted with TV’s and seating to create a community gathering space.
“We’re a young family with young children and it’s the exact kind of place that we would take our kids when we are going out to eat,” Thames said. Thames and her husband, Britt, former member of the Homewood City Council, have two young sons.
While the plans are still being developed, there is a clear vision of the atmosphere the Vestavia Hills Davenport’s will offer diners.
“We want to keep as much the same as possible,” Thames said.
They will be serving up the same menu of salads and handmade pizza dough and sauce piled with toppings in a setting reminiscent of the original location. The original location is known for its walls filled with photos of celebrities and athletes, red vinyl booths, gingham table cloths and decor reminiscent of an Italian cafe, right down to the empty Chianti bottles.
“We’re definitely planning on having an arcade area, which our customers want and expect,” Thames said. Just as at the original location, the arcade area will host children’s birthday parties and after parties for Little League baseball teams.
“The movie theater is right next door, which is a perfect fit,” Thames said. “A parent can drop of their kids and they can get a pizza and go watch a movie.”
The space won’t be an exact replica of the Mountain Brook restaurant; some of the amenities at the city center will offer new dining experiences.
“We’ll have that patio, so we will be able offer outdoor seating,” Thames said. “We’re also hoping to have some TVs, so people can enjoy watching sporting events while they are eating.”
While details are still in the works, the new location will be opening in 2022.