For DaVinci’s, Hard Work & A Strong Team Make A Difference

Clutch MOV is proud to sponsor this year’s Mid-Ohio Valley Entrepreneur of the Year. We envision a community where citizens can take risks on the promise that success would uplift the residents of our valley. Artists, creators, makers, and small business owners strive to build something anew, something worth putting their stamp on – to promote and share with each other – and entrepreneurs are on the edge, finding ways to build in a way that hasn’t been done before. This year we received dozens of nominations for innovative, forward-thinking, community-building entrepreneurs from the Mid-Ohio Valley. The panel believed six individuals stood out for the impact they are making through their work. We are sharing their stories in this series.

Since 1980, DaVinci’s has been offering Italian American cuisine to residents of the Mid-Ohio Valley. Once an old Sunoco station, original owners Jim and Marilyn Pettit grew the then gas station into a tourist destination today that has grown over the years to become the largest restaurant in the region with the capacity to serve up to 650 diners at a time. 

“I didn’t start this business. I just took the opportunity to continue the tradition, and help it to grow. I wanted DaVinci’s to be a community hub for Williamstown,” said Chris Bender, owner of DaVinci’s.

“I didn’t choose this. It chose me. I worked at DaVinci’s through college. I loved the restaurant, I loved the people, and I climbed the not-so-corporate ladder until I was running it like my own. People in the community saw me and associated me with the business. So I knew I might as well own it,” said Bender.

In her nomination for MOV Entrepreneur of the Year, Bender was praised for her ability to continually strengthen the business.

“Over the years, Chris took an already thriving business to new heights, doubling capacity, creating a popular catering and party business, and making DaVinci’s one of the most respected locally-owned businesses in the MOV. This year, however, her entrepreneurial spirit shone brightly, as she reinvented DaVinci’s, kept her people employed, and found new ways almost daily to provide and exceed the service she has become known for,” said the nominator.

With the onset of COVID-19, DaVinci’s was not immune to the very real challenges small business owners across the U.S. faced. But, through quick thinking and innovation, DaVinci’s adapted to keep employees on payroll and continue to serve patrons.

“When the pandemic shutdown hit, most restaurants closed to regroup. Chris, however, immediately hit the ground with new menus and delivery plans to take her food all over the area. She committed to keeping doors open and employees working throughout quarantine,” said the nominator.

“DaVinci’s turned its menu and kitchen process inside out, creating family-style meals, DV2U delivery to far reaching areas, premade ‘Mona Boxes’ to reheat at home, and German pizzas in grocery stores. She amped up social media to daily, entertaining posts with #coronamona, and provided comfort and familiarity in a time of fear and lack of routine. All the while Chris was keeping her restaurant afloat, she was feeding less fortunate people through donations to the Gathering Food Ministry in Parkersburg. She feeds Habitat for Humanity volunteers regularly, supports Williamstown High School in a myriad of ways, and is known for her quiet generosity,” said the nominator.

With a full menu that spans beloved Italian dishes like chicken parmigiana, lasagna, tortellini, ravioli, spaghetti and more, DaVinci’s also offers quicker options like salads, subs, calzones, and pizza.

“The most rewarding aspect is seeing generations of families enjoying eating at our table. Whether in the restaurant or catering for a special occasion, it’s a joy to see grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren making memories together with DaVinci’s,” said Bender.

Owning a small business can be challenging due to the demand to be an expert in some of the lesser known areas of the business, like utilities and construction and staffing. But, for Bender, a successful business comes at the price of hard work.

“You have to be prepared to spend many, many hours in your business. People think that because you’re the owner, you can just eat there and collect a check, but it doesn’t work that way. If you want to have a successful business, you will work for it,” said Bender.

But, Bender shares that while hard work is necessary to grow a successful business, she doesn’t do it alone.

“We’ve received a lot of recognition for maintaining our service during the pandemic, but the real secret behind that is a team of great people. We have gotten where we are because of a core group of dedicated people,  and I’m so proud of what they have accomplished this year. I don’t do this alone!” said Bender.

At the end of the day, for DaVinci’s and any small business, embracing a mission and being driven by that mission is key to the maintenance and growth of success.

“Our mission is simply to provide good, quality food in a pleasant atmosphere where you can make memories. Particularly in times like this, I think we all come back to that as a priority. I hope people think of us as a positive place to do that,” said Bender.