By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN Josh Damberg is delighted with Davanni’s, and he’s on a billboard in Minnetonka to prove it.
“I’m huge into Italian food,” said Damberg, explaining that Davanni’s has been an indispensable part of his upbringing.
“When I was about 5, my father started taking me there before every Gophers game,” he said. “I grew up associating Davanni’s pizza and Gopher hockey.”
Damberg, a 2010 Delano High School graduate, kept the Davanni’s excitement alive throughout high school.
“Our hockey team had a tradition of taking a couple carloads of guys there,” he said. “We called it a ‘Davanni’s run.’”
As Damberg and 15 to 20 of his friends loaded the restaurant with their hot hoagie and pizza requests, they turned the ordering process into a game.
“You never use your real name,” Damberg explained.
Instead, the group selects a theme, such as characters from Scooby Do or various Disney movies.
“It’s fun to hear them call it over the intercom,” Damberg said.
Employees are good sports about the game, and some ask how to spell the names.
“We sometimes get an eyebrow, like, ‘no way,’ but for the most part they accept it,” Damberg said. “I think they kind of catch on, though.”
Damberg is now a student at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and he visits Davanni’s whenever he can.
“I jokingly tell people that’s the reason I chose the U of M so I can be close to a Davanni’s,” he said.
Davanni’s has more than 20 locations, many of which are in the Twin Cities area. There are five in Minneapolis and St. Paul alone.
The restaurant’s predecessor was a small dining establishment called Pontillo’s, which opened in Buffalo, NY in 1947, according to the Davanni’s website.
The first Minnesota location was established in St. Paul, in 1975.
Damberg’s father, Tague, who grew up in St. Paul, remembers visiting Pontillo’s with his parents.
As the chain grew, the owners tested the name Davanti’s, which means “leader” in Italian. However, people associated the formal sounding “Davanti’s” with a tablecloth/candlelight restaurant, so the “t” was dropped, and an “n” was added.
The name Davanni’s became official in 1983, and more accurately described the establishment’s laid back, casual atmosphere.
Davanni’s is known for its pizza and hot hoagies, and also serves calzones, pastas, salads, desserts, breadsticks, cheese bread, and chips.
Damberg usually orders the hot hoagie, but he is featured on the billboard with his favorite type of pizza pepperoni, sausage, and green pepper.
“They already had someone for the hoagie billboard,” Damberg explained.
In the future, Damberg also might be featured on radio commercials and other marketing pieces.
He found out about the opportunity through his mother, Debbie, who suggested he try for it. Damberg wrote an essay about his long family history with Davanni’s, and was selected to meet for a photo shoot in St. Paul.
At that point, Damberg wasn’t positive if he would be on a billboard or not.
“I got a text message from a friend who saw it,” Damberg said. “It was a nice surprise.”
Damberg, his parents, and his 12-year-old sister, Jacki, all love eating at Davanni’s.
“My family’s pretty addicted,” Damberg laughed.
As payment for his help, Damberg has been receiving Davanni’s gift cards.
“I also get the satisfaction of being involved with Davanni’s,” he said.
For more information about the Davanni’s 2011 marketing campaign, follow the link on the Delano Herald Journal website, www.delanoheraldjournal.com.