On April 30, 1948, Ray Vincent Davis and his wife, Pearle, purchased lots 17 and 18 of the Pfeifer’s Addition to East Peoria from the estate of Rosie Messer. Ray built a concrete slab masonry building, formed a partnership with his brothers Clyde and Eugene “Tubby” Davis and the three of them opened as Davis Bros. Tap at 111 N. Main St. 

Ray, Clyde and “Tubby” were three of the eight sons of Jasper “Jap” and Hattie Davis. The front portion of Davis Bros. Tap housed a bar but the rear potion was where you could lose your money. Gambling had been cracked down on in Peoria and Joe Rafool was encountering tax problems with the federal government at his Pair-a-Dice Club so the back room of Davis Bros. was the place to gamble.

Ray’s granddaughter, Rebecca Davis Powell, recalls the brothers’ family was not new to gambling as their father “Jap” at one time operated a gambling house in the area referred to as “No man’s land” near Franklin Street Bridge and also owned a paddle wheel steamer that provided hunting and gambling on the Illinois River. 

Lorene Davis, wife of Ray’s son Don, recalls stories of the “long hallway” between the bar and the backroom. Eventually, the pressure on gambling became too great and the “backroom” was closed. To offset the loss of revenue that gambling had produced, the brothers came upon a new source of income — pizza. 

Before the 1940s, pizza consumption in the United States was limited mostly to Italian immigrants and their descendants. The international breakthrough came after World War II. Allied troops occupying Italy, weary of their rations, were constantly on the lookout for good food. They discovered the pizzeria and local bakers were hard-pressed to satisfy the demand from the soldiers. The American troops involved in the Italian campaign took their appreciation for the dish back home, touted by “veterans ranging from the lowliest private to Dwight D. Eisenhower”. By the 1960s, it was popular enough to be featured in an episode of Popeye the Sailor. The Davis Bros. Tap was one of the first establishments in the Peoria market to take advantage of this pizza craze. They obtained a unique recipe and served it in an austere campy atmosphere that created a cult of “Davis Bros. pizza eaters”. 

Rebecca Powell informed me that Tubby Davis purchased the pizza recipe from the Flamingo Tavern, a favorite cop hangout across from the Peoria Police Station. I’ll never forget the expression on the face of my son’s fiancé from Joliet when I told her we were going to a restaurant that provided only paper napkins for table service. It only got worse when the waitress laughed at her when she asked for a salad.

With the passing, of first Clyde in 1951 and then Tubby in 1960, Ray and Pearle became the faces of Davis Bros. They continued to operate the business until 1976 when they sold to their sons Don and Ron. With Ron’s death in 1978, Don and his wife, Lorene, continued to operate the business until 1986 when they sold the property for the creation of Town Center II and Walmart. Davis Bros., by this time had acquired most of the properties on the northwest corner of Four Corners between West Washington and Herschel Street and Don and Lorene retired at that time. Don’s son Dan leased the kitchen of Larry’s Driftwood Inn in Creve Coeur and began to produce Davis Bros. pizzas. When Dan retired because of health problems, Larry, knowing the Davis Bros. recipe continued to sell “Davis Bros. Pizza”. With that, Don and Lorene came out of retirement in 1997 and reopened Davis Bros. Pizza in Fondulac Plaza in what was once the Bonanza restaurant. Don and Lorene retired again in 2002. The business was sold at that time to Cheryl Scott, a resident of Texas who owns it to this day. The Fondulac Plaza restaurant is presently managed by Danielle Kettle. Cheryl operated additional restaurants on Glen Avenue in Peoria and in Peoria Heights for a period of time. Frozen pizzas, produced in Texas, are now available at the Fondulac Plaza location, online and at groceries throughout Illinois, using the original Davis Bros. recipe.

Compiled November 2016 by Frank Borror

 

The East Peoria Historical Society is located at 324-326 Pekin Ave. It is dedicated to the collection and preservation of local history. If anyone has any information or pictures regarding East Peoria they would share with the community please contact Frank Borror at 696-9227 or email news@eastpeoriahistoricalsociety.com.