A Slice of Birmingham: Inside Davenport’s Pizza Palace

A Slice of Birmingham: Inside Davenport’s Pizza Palace

Shadows cast along the never changing Davenport’s entrance. Photo by Cayman Carpenter.

Davenport’s Pizza Palace is stuck in the past, but in all the best ways.

The sidewalk of Cahaba Road is lined with families peering through the windows to watch as staff prepares pizzas, tossing dough high into the air. Vintage newspaper clippings adorn the entryway, in frames that have hung on the same part of the wall for the better half of a century.

Afternoon light pours in through stained glass windows, and in the evening the room is lit by red ambient light and bubbles over with the laughter of gathered families. The sparkling screens of arcade games line the walls of their dining room as children run back and forth to their worn red booths, just long enough to grab a slice.

Davenport’s Pizza has remained a beloved hidden gem of Mountain Brook for almost 60 years. Opened in 1964 in the same brick and mortar store as today, Davenport’s is a testament to the old rule of thumb: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Warm, afternoon light beams in through Davenport’s classical stain glass windows. Photo by Cayman Carpenter.

Co-owners Amanda Thames and Yates Norris are the third generation to own and operate the family business, but the magic began with their grandparents, Rex and Ardyce Hollis. Pizza was Rex’s favorite dish; the only problem was he couldn’t find it in his hometown. “This is hard to believe now in current time, but at the time in 1964, there really weren’t any pizza places around.” said Thames.

The Hollis’ decided they’d be the ones to introduce pizza to the Magic City— all they were missing was a name. “Hollis’ Pizza Palace” didn’t have the ring to it they were looking for, so Rex reached out to a childhood friend whose name he knew would garner local recognition: Jim “Peanut” Davenport. Davenport played baseball for the San Francisco Giants and had gained national attention when he played in the 1962 World Series. Hollis was hopeful that the renowned name would be eye-catching enough for locals to give their business a shot in the earliest days.

To the Hollis’ surprise, Jim Davenport’s wasn’t an immediate hit. So, the Hollis’ took it into their own hands (literally) and began visiting surrounding communities, pizzas in hand, to introduce themselves, their business, and most importantly, their new dish to the area. Before too long, Davenport’s became a fixture in Mountain Brook as buzz began to circulate.

Like, really circulate, according to Robyn Tucker, whose first job was washing dishes at Davenport’s in the early seventies. The thing she remembers most about her time at Davenport’s was the atmosphere, nearly spilling over every weekend with customers. “It was always packed when I was working, always,” Tucker recalled. “Just like it is now, as far as the taste. It’s no wonder they’ve continued to be successful all these years later.”

That’s the real mystique of Davenport’s: the taste. The same taste, using the same secret family recipes originally developed by Hollis, has kept families coming back to Davenport’s for generations. “Because people have been coming there so long, they have the expectation that it will look, feel and be the same as when they came last,” Thames said.” I think people know what they get at Davenport’s, and they are coming to get a really good pizza.”

The “game room,” as the owners affectionately call it, is equipped with Pac-Man, Cruis’n World and many other childhood favorites. Photo by Cayman Carpenter.

Early in the morning, before anyone else is there, you’ll find Norris in the kitchen preparing their signature sauce and dough, as well as salad dressings that are also homemade. The sauce has always been made the same, by a member of the Hollis family, with the same secret ingredients, behind the same locked doors. That emphasis on traditions is part of the reason Davenport’s has stood the test of time and created a warm, inviting atmosphere that locals can’t get enough of.

After years of support at the Mountain Brook Davenport’s, Thames and Norris decided to broaden their horizon in 2023 with the addition of a second Davenport’s location in Vestavia Hills. Despite its new location, the Vestavia Hills Davenport’s has all the things regulars know and love about the original— the same red booths, arcade games and unchanging menu.

“I think people know what they get at Davenport’s, and they are coming to get a really good pizza.” 

Amanda Thames, co-owner of davenport’s pizza palace

Davenport’s has remained a timeless, family-centered business for over half a century and has left a lasting imprint on its community. “We hear almost every day that someone had their first date with their now-wife there decades ago, or they came there when they were kids, and now, they’re bringing their children to eat there.” said Thames.