BACKSTORY (August 11, 1955–Present): Guests loved this “Mexican” restaurant that served favorites such as the Frito Chile Pie: a bag of corn chips sliced open and topped with chile and melted cheese. The “Ta-cup” mentioned on the poster below was ground beef, cheese, lettuce, and sauce in a fried corn dough cup. While there, you could also visit the Frito Kid, a large vending machine that gave you a bag of Fritos Corn Chips for only a nickel. The Frito Kid stood just inside the door as you walked to the counter. Guest would put a nickel in the cash box on the fence and the Frito Kid came to life. While rolling his eyes, licking his lips, and turning his head, his recorded voice would holler back to his unseen partner Klondike inside the mountain to send down some more of those “golden chips of corn,” and then a wax-paper bag of Fritos Corn Chips would slide down the chute. To the right, you can see the artwork for a Casa de Fritos matchbook.
Originally located in the corridor known as “New Orleans Street,” this restaurant favorite soon outgrew its space, was replaced by Don DeFore’s Silver Banjo BBQ, and moved next to the Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland attraction on July 1, 1957. The Frito Kid also went to the new location, but was moved from the right to the left of the chute, minus the booth with the racks of potato chips, etc. The mountain mine set was also redesigned to accommodate the different angle of the chute.
From the July 21, 1977 issue of the Disneyland Line:
Casa de Fritos...Frontierland's Spice of Life
In keeping with the important role Mexico has played in the development of our California lifestyles, Frontierland features its own tribute to the spicy appetite in the form of Casa de Fritos.
A part of the Park since 1955, Fritos was originally located in the area now occupied by the Wheelhouse. Although always a buffet-style restaurant, the need for more seating space prompted the move in June of 1957 to its present site next to the Frontierland Shooting Gallery.
In spite of the great popularity Mexican food has enjoyed in recent years, it still seems to be indigenous to the Southern California area. As a result, the crew at Fritos finds guests are often not quite sure what they're eating.
"It's not unusual to see a guest from the East pour hot sauce all over his meal as if it were catsup and suddenly rush off in search of water after the first mouthful," says Steve Teubner, who's been a Receiving Working Leader at the restaurant for seven years.
Knowing what the food is is one thing, but as Fritos folk have discovered, pronouncing it is quite another! Trying to understand what guests are asking for is a problem "you soon learn to live with...," says Sheila Henick in making an observation Patti Polin supports. "Guests will often point and the food by the wrong names, saying something like 'May I please have a bandino?'"
"It has happened too," adds Steve, "that guests will get their meal and wait to reach the cashier before asking what it is they have on their plate." And often mere identification is not sufficient--Hostesses must be prepared to give a complete description of each ingredient.
Changes, of course, have been made at Fritos over the years, as is true throughout the Park. In one case, however, a new way of doing this is actually an old way of doing things, as Host Chris Weide points out:
"Due to a winning Creative Idea, we now cook our own pinto beans instead of getting them in cans!"
Today, Casa de Fritos is one of the busiest food locations in the Park. "On a good day," says Dinner Cook Working Leader Joe Martinez, "the restaurant will go through about 400 pounds of ground beef and 800 pounds each of rice and beans." Sheila adds, "I don't even want to count the tacos!" Supplying their own guests is not their only responsibility either, as Supervisor Ray McHugh explains, "...we grate the cheese for practically the entire Park."
"Besides that," grins Matt Sanders, "we double as an information center with our Burrito Wagon getting almost as many questions as sales out there."
The extra popularity of the restaurant keeps things moving at a very fast pace, a situation we all know can be hectic and nerve-wracking at times. "If I keep up with everything, I feel pretty good," says Linda Araki. "The hard thing about working here is to keep going faster and faster."
As is true throughout the Park, that same fast pace can often help the time go by more pleasantly while increasing the sense of teamwork. "We're busy all the time here, but it's a fun place to work," says Bussing Host Mike Phillips, while Ann Maggio adds, "...everyone who works here is very close--we're like a family."
"All in all, we have a lot of fun together," says Host Peter Steiner. "Most of us play in the softball league and we all go as a group bowling on Tuesday nights. It's great being with these people."
Casa de Fritos Cast Members agree that a festive environment and friendly fellow employees combine to help create a pleasant place to work. Carmine Silvestri, a Custodial Working Leader at the facility for two years, opines, "We are surrounded by bright, gay colors, the romance and excitement of mariachi music, and pretty smiling girls with big brown eyes."
Packaged up, the charm and romance of Old Mexico highlighted and reinforced by the warm congeniality of the Cast Members who work there create the special place that is Casa de Fritos.
Patti seems to sum up the secret of their success with the phrase, "The people I work with keep the magic of this place in me."
The next incarnation of this location was Casa Mexicana, hosted by Lawry’s Foods, which lasted from October 1, 1982 until 2000. The following history came from a 1984 Lawry's Casa Mexicana brochure:
When Walt Disney first conceived the idea of an amusement park, he unveiled his plans to Lawrence and his son, Richard Frank of Lawry's, and sought their advice for feeding the many tousands of visitors that would come to the park.
Lawrence and Walt, both energetic entrepreneurs, first met in the late twenties when Walt lunched at the Tam O'Shanter, one of seven famous Lawry's restaurants. At that time, Disney Studios, then located in Hollywood, had no dining facilities so Walt and his associates visited the unique Scottish restaurant often. A great respect grew over th years between the two men because of similar backgrounds and creative flair. Still to be seen at the Tam O'Shanter isWalt's 1957 whimsical sketch of Lawrence presented to his long time friend on the 35th Anniversary of the restaurant.
As the two companies continued to grow and expand, both internationally known today, their acquaintance remained steady. Then, in 1983, Lawry's had the opportunity to become part of the Disneyland family of participants. Today, Lawry's is the proud host of Disneyland's Casa Mexicana Restaurant, and manufacturer of "the official seasonings and sauces of Disneyland." In addition, Lawry's flavorful products and Great California Lifestyle cookbook are featured at Le Gourmet Shop in Disneyland's New Orleans Square.
Today, this restaurant is known as Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante, which debuted in 2001. “El Zocalo” means “the square” which, in the Southwest and Mexico as far back as the Aztecs, was the center of town or marketplace.
Recently, Daveland reader Everardo Sandoval Jr. contacted me about his father's employment at Disneyland; he was also kind enough to share the two photos show left and right. Here is what he was able to tell me about his father:
My dad's group used to play at Casa Mexicana (now Rancho del Zocalo) from the late 1960s to early 2000's. His name was Everardo Sandoval (guitarron big bass guitar in the back). These pictures were taken in the mid 1980's. From what i remember, he was there when Mr. Ricardo Gonzalez was there and took over once Mr. Gonzalez left. They sang and played all the classics: Guadalajara, La Bamba, and Cielito Lindo. Zorro would show up on occasion and join the fun by taking pictures and entertaining guests.