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Kevin Yee

Yesteraunts

No, this isn't some column about long-lost aunts (or uncles). Yesteraunts refers to "yesterday's restaurants" -- those eateries at Disneyland that have gone extinct. We've long had a list of such establishments available in our Restaurant Resource, and you should feel free to reference that list for more information about the restaurants discussed below.

Carnation Main Street closing sign
Carnation Main Street closing sign

Tracking the changing restaurants is a hobby of mine that dates back to my junior year of high school. There, I wrote my magnum opus "The Changing Face of Disneyland," in a desperate attempt to impress Mr. Barrett. It wasn't until later that I realized he had worked at the Park himself, in the 1960s, and he wasn't particularly impressed by the thesis that Disneyland had managed to change over the years. The year was 1987, and I was fairly depressed by the resulting B grade on the paper.

The restaurants, and their changes, were naturally a big part of the changing face of Disneyland. Always have been. Over time, the restaurants have changed locations, names, themes, and menus. Changing menus is just the nature of the business; any restauranteur will tell you that you can't let your menu go stale, or you lose business (although I could easily see the argument that Disneyland represents a constantly changing customer base, so staleness is a relative term). For reasons such as these, Tomorrowland Terrace (TLT) stopped serving Moonburgers, the Village Haus went to pizza instead of hot dogs, and Cafˇ Orleans moved away from sandwiches. Sigh. The 2001 redesign of the Cafˇ Orleans menu removed the "Croissant Mardi Gras" sandwich, which was the very last vestige of the menu the restaurant had when it was table service (pre-1987). Sad to see it go.

Club Buzz stage
Club Buzz stage

The name changes are more noticeable, of course. Tomorrowland Terrace isn't even Tomorrowland Terrace any more; it's Club Buzz now. I suppose that's a passable name; TLT was a fairly generic name, now that I think about it. The Tahitian Terrace became Aladdin's Oasis -- though they always have the Enchanted Tiki Room, I suppose (sigh -- bet they wish they had Tahitian Terrace now to plant a Lilo & Stitch connection), and Casa Mexicana became Rancho del Zocalo.

Lest you think this is a recent phenomenon, consider that it's been going on since Disneyland began. Tomorrowland Terrace wasn't even the original name; it was first called the Yacht Bar -- and was even moved physically by a crane at one point (and then rebuilt). The Riverbelle Terrace began life as a joint themed to Aunt Jemima, and even had a black hostess greet patrons out front. Casa Mexicana was originally Casa de Fritos.

And then there are those locations that are simply history: Anyone remember Don DeFore's Silver Banjo in Frontierland? The Chicken Plantation? Maurie's Lobster House? Many of you might remember some of the Disneyland Hotel offerings: Shipyard Inn, Stromboli's Ristorante, Grandma Maize's Picnic Basket, and the popular Monorail Cafˇ (sniff, sniff). Even if those don't jar your memory, then perhaps you recall the Chicken of the Sea Pirate Ship -- that Peter Pan-themed restaurant next to Skull Rock in the old Fantasyland. It sold tuna sandwiches, of course.

Yesteraunts

But is it really an unchanging stream of changes? Are things no different now? To answer that, let's look a little more closely at the changing face of Disneyland's restaurants -- starting with the date of my high school essay in 1987. Since 1987, the following food locations have been removed from Disneyland, in chronological order:

  1. The Space Place
  2. Town Square Cafˇ
  3. Aladdin's Oasis / Tahitian Terrace
  4. The Lunching Pad
  5. Tom Sawyer Island Cantina
  6. Carnation Plaza Gardens
  7. Mile Long Bar / Brer Bar
  8. Plaza Pavilion
  9. La Petite Patisserie
  10. Big Thunder BBQ
  11. (I'm tempted to add Harbour Galley to the list, since it now sells only fries)

Now let's tally up what's been added since 1987:

  1. The Toontown fast food row (and this is a new land, rather than a replacement restaurant)
  2. Conestoga Fries (McDonald's)
  3. Redd Rockett's Pizza Port

An interesting list, isn't it? Toontown was a new land, so that hardly counts. The french fry cart hardly counts, too. That leaves us with one meager "real" restaurant to replace the 10 (or more) that have been removed since 1987.

How is this possible? What's going on? Are people leaving Disneyland hungry, or just not eating? I think there are a number of things going on. First, people are taking advantage more often of eating their own food -- they are supposed to do it in the picnic area outside the gates, but I'm stunned by how often they simply brazenly bring it inside. This is occurring, in my opinion, because they feel the food prices inside are exorbitant, and have risen beyond the level of inflation in the past 15 years. I fear they may be right.

Churro cart off the hub
Churro cart off the hub

But there's another phenomenon at work. Have you guessed it by now? The decline of restaurants and counter-service locations has been accompanied during these same years by a rise in quick-service snack carts: Outdoor Vending (ODV). Longtime visitors to the Park have noticed a proliferation of such ODV carts throughout the resort, and this is not their imagination -- the ODV department has grown by several orders of magnitude since 1987.

What's behind this? Why, money of course. Food operations are conducted on the basis of tried-and-true money-managing techniques: "labor percentages of sales" and "sales per labor hour." Buffeterias top out at 15% for "labor percentage," and $85 earned per labor hour. But an ODV cart, which operates with just one person and thus only one labor hour for sixty minutes, can rack up a few hundred dollars pretty easily. You don't even need to do the math to see that in terms of MARGINS, which is all that really counts in a business like this, ODV is far more profitable than full-sized and fixed-location restaurants. Disney knows what it's doing.

But it's a short-term type of thinking. ODV clutter has two effects on the park that have nothing to do with marginal profit: first, with fewer people sitting down in establishments and instead eating on the go, the walkways are more crowded. Add FastPass into the mix, and you've got every day feeling twice as crowded as it really is. I fear the next day where attendance tops 87,000.

The other effect is more conjectural. I think it's very possible that people are actually spending less money on a day with ODV than they would on a day eating only in restaurants. If ODV is so easy and cheap -- and we can assume it is, since that's the reason why people eat there rather than in restaurants -- then that means these folks won't be dining in the restaurants later because they're full of churros and hot dogs and turkey legs. Sure, on paper Disney is doing great with these marginal profit figures, but if the guests spend $15 per person on ODV all day, isn't that less than the $25-$30 they would have otherwise spent in restaurants in a Disneyland that had no ODV? Short-sighted.

Avalon Cove at California Adventure
Avalon Cove at California Adventure

Disney's California Adventure (DCA) opened in 2001 with a lot of restaurants, and anybody could see that it couldn't last. True to form, there are a number of eateries that are seldom open. We've previously chronicled the problems with Avalon Cove and the Golden Vine Winery here (indeed, the latter has since been replaced by the Wine Country Trattoria). But there are others. The Hollywood and Dine food court is shuttered and may well not open again until Tower of Terror is ready (if it survives empty that long).

MousePad discussion board member Techie 7 identified in a post that the debut "combined" souvenir guide map (used in both parks) did not list the Corn Dog Castle, Maliburritos, Strips Dips & Chips, Catch a Flave, Schmoozies, Bountiful Valley Farmers Market, or Sam Andreas Shakes -- an ominous sign that gives DCA the option to schedule these locations as closed, and only call staff in to open them if the park gets very busy. It doesn't seem that they are preparing to close any of these locations full-time (indeed, most are open on busy days), but doubtless some of them will not survive the park's first five years.

Maybe DCA opened with too much food. Maybe Disneyland had too much food in 1987. Maybe, in other words, the public doesn't need that much food or that many options. I could maybe buy that argument, since as a lad myself I would prefer fast food joints at all theme parks, the quicker to get back to the rides.

There is another explanation, though. Maybe the public does want restaurants like Disneyland had in 1987, but DCA doesn't offer the immersive theming that Disneyland eateries did (alternative: DCA restaurants do have theming, but it's just not interesting or appealing theming). After all, look at what kind of places are not listed on the DCA map: many of them are walk-up counters themed to seaside carnivals. Does that compare to the endless mirrors of the Mile Long Bar, while non-animated Max, Buff, and Melvin (the talking heads of the nearby Country Bear Playhouse) watched you from above?

Either way, the face of Disneyland (Resort) continues to change. Maybe I should go visit Mr. Barrett and ask him if it's too late to turn in a rewrite.


Yesteraunts

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