Twenty-six years ago, Chris Davidson boarded a plane and left the East Coast, bound for the South Bay of Los Angeles. He was young, green and had absolutely no idea what lay ahead.
But he took the leap.
Now he looks with gratitude at the life he's built: He’s happily married, a father to four exuberant daughters, and last week he was readying for the opening of a third Mama D’s Italian Kitchen in Redondo Beach.
Davidson's Manhattan Beach location on Manhattan Avenue has been dubbed "the friendliest restaurant in the world" by local radio host Merrill Schindler. And, at one time, his Newport Beach locale made a top ten list of Yelp Italian eateries.
“I wanted to go where the families are,” Davidson said about the Redondo Beach location. “It’s all about family—knowing everyone’s names, knowing what they like to eat, and making sure the kids have fun.” He looks around at the hive of activity around him, as the staff makes final preparations for the opening. “We’re gonna be SO busy.”
And they were: last Saturday’s opening had a 40-minute wait, kids everywhere, and families sated by Mama D's home-style Italian food.
“It was everything I dreamt of,” Davidson said.
A few days before, the adrenaline was pumping; while the staff worked steadily on last-minute touches, 10 cars pulled into the parking lot, with eager patrons popping in to know if they were open yet. Mama D’s is a name well known in the South Bay—from the hearty, home-cooked Italian food, to the welcoming atmosphere and commitment to patrons. Kids get to make their own pizzas and cook them in the kitchen, and there are plenty of games and coloring books to entertain them, and a “Kids Gallery” of art displays their finest work. At the end of the week, the parents of Gallery kids get a call telling them they get a free pizza.
While the kids play, the adults enjoy a glass of wine and the simple pleasure of being waited on. Sample plates of Mama D’s finest selections—all his mother’s recipes—are offered round the tables, and Davidson makes sure to keep the prices affordable. Having learned the restaurant business by doing it, he operates by a pretty straightforward principle: Make sure everyone gets some attention.
Davidson sees himself as a host, welcoming people into his place and keeping an eye on things. Are all the water glasses full? Does Table 4 need more wine? Did the little ones run out of crayons? He’s been doing it for so long that he knows instinctively where to look and what to look for.
“It doesn’t even feel like work,” Davidson said happily. “And I really love it.”
In the competitive business of food service, Mama D’s has remained strong through customer loyalty. They come for the easy, home-style Italian cooking and friendly service. The company motto is emblazoned boldly on a wall for all to see, and at any time, Davidson said, he can ask any employee, “What’s our mission statement?” Without pause, each can recite it and he's proud of that.
He thinks back to that green kid who boarded a plane so many years ago and remembers the uncertainty he felt, and shakes his head. “To think I’d have four kids and a successful restaurant ...” he chuckles. “That’s a mean trick.”
Mama D's is located at 1109 S. Pacific Coast Highway in Redondo Beach.