by W. A. Caton, Jr.
I was a 17-year-old high school senior the first time I ate a Mona Lisa at DeVinci’s in Homewood. My friend Jeff Champion and I rode to the now-gone West Homewood location in his Volkswagen Beetle. It was late in the fall and we discussed big ideas about the world- changing promise of the life that lay before us.
Within a couple of years I had lost touch with Jeff and had settled into a comfortable C average at Auburn.
I have had uncounted visits to DeVinci’s since then, always ordering the Mona Lisa, the local masterpiece that proves a beautifully prepared pizza — like life itself — can be greater than the sum of its parts.
Fred Koetter, who learned how to cook while posted in Italy in the Navy, opened DeVinci’s in 1961. He opened the second location — the one on 18th Street today — in 1965.
“Fred could cook, but he couldn’t spell,” said John Day, DeVinci’s owner, referring to the misspelling of the name of the creator of the original, inedible Mona Lisa.
John’s parents, Roland and Ira Day, bought the business from Fred nearly 40 years ago and John has been running it full time for slightly less than 10 years.
As a young man I travelled Alabama and Georgia, taking jobs at newspapers and magazines, but I always found myself back at the 18th Street location of DeVinci’s on visits home. During that time, I ate at pizza joints from Atlanta to Chicago, to New York City to Florence, Alabama. But I continued to come home to DeVinci’s and the Mona Lisa.
My family has been there for birthdays, dime beer (for which John says I remain famous), Christmas Eve and just Wednesday nights after church with our youngest son and his two little girls.
Ann and I recently shared a Mona Lisa with our son Josh and our granddaughters, Evelyn and Mallory. John walked out on the porch and leaned over the rail to talk with us while the pizza was cooking. He commented on how the girls had grown and leaned in to tell Ann a joke about her husband.
“I was going through storage the other day and found an old chair in there that had a perfect imprint of Bill’s butt,” he said.
The sum of our parts.