Davanni's Employees Have Staying Power

The team at Davanni’s explains the meaning behind the long and strong tenure of their employees.

Davanni’s Pizza & Hot Hoagies is a staple in the Woodbury community (and beyond), and over the years it has meant many different things to many people. The first meal in a new home, sitting on the floor with a significant other or roommates before there’s even a chance to unpack the dishes. Gathering around a Davanni’s table with a sports team after a game well played, cheese suspending from each well-deserved bite. Or family pizza night, a tradition that many families delight in on a regular basis.  
Walking into the Woodbury Davanni’s, the cozy atmosphere is instantly apparent. Sunlight spills in from large, front windows and the air is rich with the alluring smells of cheese melting over freshly-baked crust. The crisp, chopped veggies and the bold, spicy smells of the sauces dance around your taste buds. Pizza is the main event, but customers will also see something else: happy employees, a bit of an anomaly in the often stressful service industry.
Pizza can feel like coming home, especially at a beloved pizza joint like Davanni’s, but those red letters sporting the company’s name at the top of all the restaurants mean something extra special to those who work there. “I think when my partners and I started this business, we all had this philosophy that they’re not our employees, they’re our teammates,” says Davanni’s CEO Mick Stenson. And this philosophy has given Davanni’s a team that wants to stick around. “You can’t be in the restaurant business and not serve good food,” Stenson says. “But that’s only part and parcel; you have to have good people. That’s extremely important.” Ever since its local beginnings, over four decades ago, Davanni’s has taken this special approach to the pizza business.  

The first Davanni’s opened its doors in 1975 on Cleveland and Grand in St. Paul. At that time it went by the name of Pontillo’s Pizzeria. “Pontillo was the name of a family that taught us the pizza business,” Stenson says. “One of my partners became friends with a nice Italian guy—his father-in-law had taught him the pizza business.” Stenson and his two partners thought that the pizza made by the Pontillo family was so delicious that they wanted to share it with their community. New York-style, topped with sauce spiced just right and overflowing with cheese. “It was more of a side gig,” Stenson says, “but it turned into much, much more.”

The partners did so well that they opened up another restaurant in the Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis. And then another. And then another, with a total of 21 restaurants open today. The Woodbury restaurant opened its doors in 2001 after multiple requests from the community. Along the way, Stenson and his partners changed the name to Davanni’s when they needed a name that they could trademark. But the New York-inspired eats and the values at the core of the business have stayed the same because, simply, they work.

  Ashley Trudeau has worked at the Woodbury Davanni’s for almost six years. “I started when I was 17,” Trudeau says, adding that, in all that time, she has never dreaded going to work. As a mom of two kids, Trudeau also appreciates the flexibility of the job. “They really work around that schedule for me,” she says. Trudeau has always been shy and believes that her time working at Davanni’s has helped her to come out of her shell. “All the managers who trained me really made me feel comfortable,” she says. Trudeau has also become close to a few of the regulars, some of whom come in two to three times a week. “By this point they know my name,” Trudeau says. “The Woodbury community is very friendly.”

Woodbury general manager Michael Sagnes has been with Davanni’s for 29 years. Sagnes is quick to mention the motto of Davanni’s employees: Care, Work Hard and Have Fun, a motto that hangs proudly on a sign in all Davanni’s restaurants. “The service industry can be stressful,” he says, but “I’m a firm believer that if we didn’t have fun here, people would come and go fast.” The average tenure of general managers at Davanni’s is 25 years. “I think that says the most about Davanni’s,” Sagnes says. “I think that talks about Davanni’s more than us as individuals.”
Davanni’s dedication to its employees has inspired a very special type of get-together: open houses held by management at least once a year. Team members’ families gather around the booths and tables at the restaurant and enjoy a delicious meal with the staff and management. This gives families a chance to see where their loved one is working, and it creates a whole new level of trust and understanding between team members and management. This is especially important for the families of teenage workers. “The idea behind it is we want to show the parents that their children are in a good working environment,” Stenson says. This level of trust and respect has created an incredible culture at Davanni’s, a culture where employees feel respected and part of a team.

And it’s not just the Davanni’s team that sticks around because of this environment. “We have so many regulars,” Sagnes says. “It’s really fun just getting to know them personally; you build a semi-friendship. We don’t want to bother people, but there’s a sincere care level.” The Davanni’s team members have also built lasting friendships with each other.