If you were to ask his friends and family what Walt Disney was, you might get any number of answers: an animator; an artist; a dreamer; an optimist; a futurist... But that's not all...
According to the fantastic Eat Like Walt by Marcy Carriker Smothers, Walt was also a restauranteur – a man experimenting right at the height of mid-century middle class American dining, introducing the idea that food and fun could go together; that food was full of color and fantasy; that food could be an integral part of the story of each of Disneyland's themed areas.
However, there was one area where even Walt wasn't willing to mess around: coffee. As the story goes, Walt decreed back in 1955 that Disneyland would always offer a cup of coffee for ten-cents and not a penny more. And in fact, coffee in the park did cost only a dime until Walt's death in 1966. Those days, of course, are long gone...
That's partly because coffee has changed. An inescapable part of the story of the rise of premium coffees in American culture must be the founding of Starbucks in 1971 – coincidentally, the same year Walt Disney World opened!
Over the last fifty years, Starbucks has played a massive role in elevating coffee from its simple brewed bean origins to a luxury product customizable with decadent drink options, frozen-and-flavored caffinated concoctions, and seasonal staples baristas can set their calendars by. Starbucks stores have been incorporated into Downtown Disney, Universal's CityWalk, and other "lessee" shop spaces for decades. But the coffee giant was like any other retailer renting property in those retail malls.
Then, in 2012, the inevitable became real when Disney and Starbucks announced a partnership that would bring a real Starbucks into each of the six U.S. Disney Parks. But of course, setting a Starbucks down on Main Street wouldn't exactly jive... which is why we're taking a cross-country tour to see how Starbucks was "disguised" for each Disney Park!
1. Disney California Adventure
Disguise: Fiddler, Fifer, and Practical Café
Land: Buena Vista Street
Opened: June 15, 2012
Believe it or not, the first ever Starbucks inside a Disney Park was built at Disney California Adventure, unveiled alongside the park's billion-dollar Grand Reopening on June 15, 2012. It can be found along the park's iconic Buena Vista Street – its "Main Street" equivalent – that transports guests to a romanticized and idealized 1920s Los Angeles. Amid elegant department stores, artist lofts, bubbling tile fountains, and the graceful Red Car Trolley, Starbucks is hidden in plain sight as... well... a coffee shop!
Along Buena Vista Street, you'll find the Fiddler, Fifer, and Practical Café (named in-universe for a trio of lounge singers who frequent the nearby Hollywood Tower Hotel's Tip-Top Club, but truly an allusion to the names of the Three Little Pigs in Disney's 1933 Silly Symphony cartoon). Set directly in the shadow of the Carthay Circle Theater, the jazzy interior is adorned with posters and black-and-white photographs of the "Silver Lake Sisters" live shows around Southern California. Though the high-capacity café is more cafeteria than cozy, it feels appropriately bustling for the big city it's meant to recreate.
Naturally, Starbucks baristas inside the elegantly-stylized restaurant wear 1920s-inspired attire. Another charming detail? Rather than displaying Starbucks' corporate logo, Imagineers got the rare clearance to use Starbucks' original, vintage logo, stamped gold on a brown sign.
Though Imagineers and Starbucks went to great lengths to ensure that the Fiddler, Fifer, and Practical Café recalls the Los Angeles Walt first experienced when he arrived in 1923, note that all the coffee prices are startlingly modern.
2. Magic Kingdom
Disguise: Main Street Bakery
Land: Main Street, U.S.A.
Opened: June 18, 2013
The second Starbucks to make its way to Disney Parks opened almost exactly one year later – the Main Street Bakery at Magic Kingdom. It's also the first example of Disney recrafting one of their own food service locations to become a Starbucks rather than California Adventure's from-scratch build.
The Bakery also perfectly balances maintaining Disney's in-universe storytelling style while clearly communicating to customers that Starbucks can be found within. The Bakery is earthy and upscale, with a stamped copper ceiling, a green patina color scheme, dark wood, and glowing chandliers. The very large, very exquisite space is fittingly ornate for Magic Kingdom's Main Street (which was designed to be more East Coast than Disneyland's Midwest). As you'd expect, Cast Members wear costumes consistent with the early 20th century look and feel of Main Street, U.S.A.
Another thing this not-so-secret Starbucks gets right? It's immensely high-capacity. That's important given that Magic Kingdom is the highest-attended theme park on Earth, and that an incredible percentage of parents make a bee-line for coffee first thing in the morning. In the name of that capacity, however, this coffee shop is "standing room only," encouraging guests to get their morning brew and get moving – and in a fast-paced park like Magic Kingdom, who needs a place to sit, sip, and savor?
For everyone else, the Main Street Bakery still functions as it did before Starbucks' move – as the perfect place to grab a scone, muffin, or cookie during the day. As for the Disney-made baked goods that formerly called the Bakery home? Disney smartly transferred their own popular treats to other locations in the park. The Bakery's beloved cinnamon rolls were moved to Gaston's Tavern in Fantasyland, while ice cream sandwiches moved just down the street to the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor.
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