Sunday, March 25, 2012

TPE: Casa de Fritos

While we're in the neighborhood...let's drop into Casa de Fritos for a little snack. A Frito Chili Pie sounds mighty good! At 35¢, you can't go wrong!

Kevin Kidney, designer supreme, is a huge Casa de Fritos fan (like so many of us). Make sure you check out his fantastic post on this Disneyland Restaurant of the past at his blog. Meanwhile, here are the highlights:

The first Casa de Fritos location opened on August 19th, 1955 next door to Aunt Jemima's Pancake House. The Frito Kid chip-dispensing machine stood just inside the door as you walked to the counter, and was not visible from outside, which explains why photos are scarce. Here's how it worked. 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, he'd holler back to his unseen partner Klondike inside the mountain to send down some more of those "golden chips of corn," and before you knew it, a wax-paper bag of dee-licious Fritos came sliding out right down the chute.

I added a little motion to Kevin's photo to give you a better idea of the fun that could be had here!

When Casa de Fritos moved to a bigger location on July 1, 1957 (to the one-story adobe structure which became Casa Mexicana - and currently Rancho del Zocalo) the chip dispensing machine was relocated to a fenced-in area just outside the entrance. You can see the Golden Chips Mine and mountain were completely redesigned, and the Kid has been moved to the left of the chute.

Today's post is about the 2nd location; we'll get to the original one soon enough. Here are some photos of the exterior, that many of you will recognize as the present Rancho del Zocalo Mexican Restaurant.

September 1961:

This outdoor shot has the bonus of showcasing the rarely seen Mineral Hall.

With the magic of backlight, this place was ENCHANTING!

I love the festive colors of the outdoor seating in this 1960's shot:

March 1964:

The Gonzalez Trio is sure to pack the guests in with their musical number "Tacos for Two" (a parody of “Cocktails for Two”) in this January 1966 photo. All together now:

In some secluded rendezvous
That overlooks the avenue
With someone sharing a delightful chat
Of this and that
And ordered tacos for two

Our hearts were burning,
but it wasn't from the yearning,
so we both reached for the water,
’cause our faces, red were turning

We found we didn’t have a dime
And so for that we’re doing time

Gotta' zoom in for the menu on the wall:

From the July 21, 1977 issue of the Disneyland Line comes this great article about 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."

Adios! Please get a bag of Fritos before you leave:

See more vintage Disneyland Casa de Fritos photos on my Casa de Fritos web page.


Chiana_Chat said...

Every stop on the TPE series has been a pleasure.

Thanks to Frito for Laying the groundwork. I really like the Casa, then and now. It's so nicely situated in the middle of things yet has an ambiance.

With Mexican food having risen in popularity far and wide, it's hard to think that most peeps coming from the East or North would not have known much if anything about any of it. "I'll have a... bandanna...pie...?"

Beyond having heard it referred to, I've managed to miss seeing the Frito Kid there! In either hangout. Do you know where at the Casa the Frito Kid and Mt (Klondike?!) was located? Thanks to Kevin and you Dave for the extra mile on features like this.

Mmmm chili, oh that sounds good. In celebration, I'm gonna have chili with scrambled eggs this morning. :)

Anonymous said...

The Frito Kid and Klondike contrivance was outside the entrance to the buffet line, on the right side nearest the Frontierland Shooting Gallery. It was in small alcove which often had a couple of dining tables in there as well. The chip machine was partitioned off by a rustic red wooden fence which matched the exterior of the shooting gallery and the Trading Post. Great post, Dave. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

As always Dave, your posts and blog are sheer joy! Thanks for the great work you do.

Chiana_Chat said...

Thank you Anon. for the excellent detailed reply - now I can picture it. :)

Gosh that matchbook illustration makes me all nostalgic. The March '64 B&W sure makes it feel rustic and you don't often see much featuring the little oven (that extra detail work again to make it look used) smack dab in the middle.

"Rainbow Hall of Enchantment" wow. What's the sign in the window say, the swirly one? Can't quite make it out. Fantastic pic. Hehe the guy's thinking, "Ooooh man, I didn't know it would be soo spicy..." What was in the Assay Office? Full of questions...

Daveland said...

Anon - Thank you also for describing the location further; other than what Kevin wrote, I couldn't add much myself!

Chiana - How was your breakfast? Did you throw a few fritos in for good measure?

Chiana_Chat said...

Hi Dave, yes in fact I did! I had: scrambled eggs w/green chilis; chili & beans con carne garnished w/Fritos; cantaloupe melon and horchata to drink. Real hearty but delish.

JG said...

I have a vivid memory of the Mineral Hall. My uncle was a rckhound and we spent a good bit in there with the UV display on the rocks.

I don't ever recall going in Casa De Fritos, ever, even now. I guess we got plenty of South of Border at home. Our family always took meals in NOS. We went for a cold drink in 2011,- but only coke available. we went o ut for tea elsewhere.

Good post and great period graphics, thank you Dave.


Darryl said...

Great Fun! Any idea what happened to the "Kid"?