By Michelle Love
Photos by James and Rachel Culver
Walking into the new Vestavia location of Davenport’s Pizza, guests are met with the new, sleek aesthetic of the space but also met with that familiar and comforting smell of the classic Davenport’s pizza that the community has grown to love over the past 50-plus years.
The restaurant’s owners, Yates Norris and Amanda Thames, are cousins, and the Davenport’s legacy is something they’ve been exposed to their whole lives. They both grew up visiting the Mountain Brook location, playing games and watching the pizzas being made. When it came time for a new generation to take over, the idea of bringing someone in from outside the family was out of the question.
Amanda has worked as an owner for 12 years, while Yates has been an owner for four years. In their time as owners, they’ve maintained the classic nostalgia the restaurant has become known for- along with that signature Davenport’s square slice.
The road to fame was not overnight, according to Yates. When his grandfather opened Davenport’s Pizza in its original Mountain Brook location in 1964, the idea of a pizza place wasn’t as typical a business model as it is today. Yates says the initial reaction to a restaurant that solely sold pizza in Mountain Brook was skepticism.
“It was a tough sell in the beginning,” he says. “He was having to go door-to-door to give out samples to people because it wasn’t like how it is now where everybody is familiar with pizza.”
After gaining the community’s support, Davenport’s became a local hit, and the rest is history. It’s never left that spot in Mountain Brook Village on Cahaba Road. Though it’s expanded in size over the years, it’s never stopped offering that same nostalgic charm that has helped build such a strong fan base in its 58 years of existence.
The new location looks to offer that same feeling of nostalgia with an updated (and larger) space. The menu is the same as its predecessor location, but there’s a bar with televisions for people to come enjoy a beer and watch a game or two. The Vestavia game room has additional arcade games for kids to enjoy, including the always popular Galaga.
It was important to both Yates and Amanda that they bring that same classic feel people love about Davenport’s to the Vestavia location. The Vestavia location is approximately 400 sq. ft. bigger than its original space, according to Yates, and Amanda says the layout spoke to her not just as a business owner, but also as a patron.
“We loved the space when we saw it, and I thought this was for sure a place I would want to take my family,” she says. “We thought it was a really great fit for us, and we just tried really hard to keep as many elements as we could from the original. We know that even though it’s in Vestavia, people want to come and experience those elements that make us who we are.”
Long-time followers of the pizza restaurant may remember when the owners bought a Vestavia location in the 1980s. Due to the building being sold, the location ended up closing, though the idea of reopening a Vestavia location never left the owners’ minds.
“It’s tough to make that jump, but after we took over we started talking about it casually,” Yates says.
At the end of 2020, Yates and Amanda started looking at empty spaces around town for a potential spot. Yates saw that Moe’s Southwest Grill was leaving the location it had resided in for more than 10 years, and he decided to see if it was an option.
“I cold-called the people who owned the complex, and I asked them if we could work out a deal for that space and they said, ‘Actually, we may have a bigger space that may work better for y’all,’” he explains.
According to Yates, Davenport’s interest in the City Center space coincided with the property owners’ vision for revitalizing the area.
“They were very intentional in what they wanted to put in the area,” Yates says. “They told us how they wanted to put in the greenspace area for families, and Taco Mama was going to come aboard; so, they were very happy to get us in here to make it work.”
Almost two years later, the location opened on Sept. 22. They had originally planned to open in fall 2021, then as the pandemic pushed everything back, they ultimately decided September 2022 was their best bet. They even held a special ribbon cutting with the city of Vestavia on Oct. 27.
Yates says the opening is a long time coming, and they’re happy to be open and providing quality pizza to the community.
“It’s all worked out nicely so far, and we’re happy to be here,” Norris said.
Having the Mountain Brook location already established provided Yates and Amanda with a vision for what they wanted the Vestavia location to be, but building a Davenport’s Pizza from the ground-up was another story.
“We know how Davenport’s should look and how it should run,” Yates says. “But, how do you start from scratch?”
The Vestavia location offers the business new opportunities for growth that the Mountain Brook location simply wasn’t able to, he adds, including outdoor seating and oven space.
“They’re different, but there are a lot of similarities,” Yates explains. “The biggest things that were lacking in Mountain Brook were the outdoor seating, which we have here aplenty, and also the oven space. Our kitchen in Mountain Brook is so small. We can only fit two sets of ovens there; whereas, here we’re able to fit three sets of ovens back there, so we can cater to everybody who wants to eat here and get them their pizzas in a timely fashion.”
Catering is another aspect the Vestavia location helps with.
“One thing we can’t do at Mountain Brook is catering for large parties, so if somebody wants to order 30 pizzas, we have to choose between doing that and taking care of our dine-in customers,” Yates says. “Here, we’re able to handle everything and do catering and also have a good handle on dine-in services.”
Amanda credits their manager at the Mountain Brook location for providing them with peace of mind governing the two locations.
“It definitely gives us some peace of mind,” she says. “[The restaurants] are not identical in appearance, but it’s the exact same processes at both stores, so that makes it easier to replicate and do the same things when everything is consistent at both locations.”
Yates says they were very fortunate to be able to build the staff they currently have though they’re always looking to bring more people aboard the Davenport’s family.
As with the Mountain Brook location, Amanda says being involved with the community is a top priority, and she explains how they want to repay the Vestavia community for their kindness and support in the few months the Vestavia location has been open. Amanda wants the restaurant to be involved with local charities and school functions, while providing another location for families to make memories. Memories, she says, she never tires of hearing.
“It’s just been so cool and inspiring, and it never gets old that we hear stories everyday about what Davenport’s means to people,” Amanda says. “The other day, we had a man come in from Virginia who said he always stops by the Mountain Brook location, and he’s been coming by since 1964 whenever he’s in town. He remembers what it looked like originally. Hearing stories like that is so special. To be that place that people go for birthdays every year or they come here every year on the night they got engaged at Davenport’s, it means so much that we’re a part of people’s memories and a part of their lives.”
“It’s cool to expand on the legacy our grandparents started and to make it our own,” Yates adds. “It was certainly a lot easier for us now because you know everybody knows Davenport’s. All the leg work was really done for us, but it’s really surreal that all these people want to come partake in something that you create. We appreciate it, one hundred percent.”
No matter the occasion, Yates and Amanda both agree Davenport’s will always strive to provide that family-friendly atmosphere people have grown to love. Amanda says she wants people to know that the restaurant is not only for families- it’s run by a family, and that adds to the comforting and familiar feel that has made Davenport’s so special.
“We are a third generation, family-owned restaurant, which is something we’re very proud of,” she says. “We hope that people see us as the neighborhood spot, and just because we have a limited menu, doesn’t mean that you aren’t getting something special every time. It’s a very unique atmosphere and very nostalgic, and we want to provide that to the community as long as they’ll have us.”