A Spoonful of Salad down at the Mall
February 27, 2011
Last week, we took a tour of Disney's current dining
location outside the parks, so today we're borrowing the Fairy
Godmother's wand and going back in time to visit Mickey's Kitchen,
Disney's first and only foray into the fast-food industry outside of
their theme parks.
The first Mickey's Kitchen opened on March 28, 1990
at the Montclair Plaza, a typical suburban area mall in Montclair,
California, as a test location. In May 1991, a
second location opened in Schaumburg, Illinois at the Woodfield
Mall. Press releases for the new concept
restaurant claimed it would be a healthy alternative to the typical
fast food restaurants offering nutritious and wholesome menu items
without straying too far from the expected fast food items.
Upon opening, guests were so excited for the new store and
restaurant, the Montclair Mall was mobbed by 25,000 guests looking
to try out the new Disney shopping and dining experience at their
local mall. Mickey's Kitchen featured a wide variety of menu
items low in fat and calories including meatless burgers, turkey
frankfurters and fresh-fruit shakes with prices ranging from as low
as $0.50 to as high as $3.25.
(Image from Jim Hill Media)
Healthy ingredients weren't the only spin Disney put
on fast food. Not only did the theme parks' food
have quirky names, but Mickey's Kitchen was sure to serve up a
colorful variety of Disney characters attached to food items. Guests looking to stay in shape for all their goofy sport
antics could cut those calories with the low-fat "Goofy's Burger."
They could stay healthy with a mouthful of fresh
greens, chicken, and nonsense words with the "Supercalifragi-Chicken
salad" or "Salads-in-Wonderland." Guests
completed their entree with a side "Soup-a-dee-doo-dah," "Piglet
Corkscrew Fries," or fries shaped like Disney characters.
Mickey didn't forget to cater to his vegetarian guests with "Mickey's
Meatless Burger." For some authentic Italian
cuisine, Mickey got a recipe from a real Italian boy and served "Pinocchio's Pizza," a vegetarian pizza.
The pickiest of eaters couldn't say no to the classic PB&J, or
rather Mickey's "P and J Handwich." If the Disney
food wasn't enough to get your little ones to eat, Mickey offered
some Mouseketeer Meals for the kids, making sure each came with a
With a Disney themed restaurant, Disney food is only
one part of the concept. You mustn't forget your
happy cast members, ready to serve you and explain what all the menu
(Mickey's Kitchen cast member name tag from
Disney food, Disney cast members-what about the
theme? For those of you who remember how the
original Disney Stores were designed, then you could surely imagine
the great theming that was done for Mickey's Kitchen.
After the Montclair Plaza restaurant opened, writer Laurie
Ochoa of the Los Angeles Times reviewed the restaurant on May
4, 1990 and described the whimsical atmosphere of the restaurant:
"[Mickey's Kitchen] is something of a suburban Toontown.
Near the front is Winnie-the-Pooh country, with separate
yogurt bar; off in a corner is a replica of Tony's Italian
restaurant, the setting for the love scene in "Lady and the Tramp."
Sing-along videos of Disney hits constantly play on a big-screen TV
(the words and a bouncing mouse head appear as subtitles).
You order at a counter that looks like a jazzed-up
With a description like that, I'm ready to hop over
to Montclair, CA and order a Goofy Burger and Piglet curly fries and
sit with Lady and the Tramp, listening to the happy tunes of Disney
music. As we all know, there are no Mickey's
Kitchen's adjoining Disney Stores around the country.
Sadly, the realized Mickey's Kitchen no longer exists,
closing 2 years after it opened. Even sadder
still, pictures of the restaurant are difficult to find, though the
actual Montclair Plaza Disney Store still stands today. As with a
small handful of other Disney Stores, it still retains the old
school Disney store look, complete with the animated dioramas and
(Image courtesy of Loren Javier.
Visit Loren Javier's Flikr Account for more classic Disney
Store pictures and thousands, no lie, of terrific Disneyland
Online images of Mickey's Kitchen are limited to
just the store logo as it has been over 20 years since the
restaurant's creation. I did manage to find a
collection of paper products, signs, and hats from the restaurant.
Due to copyright laws, I cannot post those images here, but
you can look at them yourself in graphic designer Bill Ford's
The concept of Mickey's Kitchen was an exciting,
animated restaurant with healthy food options and was certainly a
unique concept for a fast food restaurant at the time.
So what happened? After both Mickey's
Kitchens closed their doors forever, Vicki Vaughan of the Orlando
Sentinel reported why. The company only "barely
broke even" with the restaurants and McDonald's was already the
leader in restaurants that appealed to kids.
Though the restaurant tested favorably through guest comments and
response, the competition was just too fierce.
McDonald's continued to climb the ladder of success, and had not
even reached its peak at the time; other fast food chains like
Burger King and Wendy's continued to rise as well.
From a business viewpoint, Disney Consumer Products spokesman
Chuck Champlin explained that the store was just an experiment and
the company was busy opening more Disney Stores around the country
and overseas. 20 years ago, there were very few
Disney Stores, so I could understand that their priority was to open
more Disney Stores, not open a restaurant next to the existing ones.
Additionally, you have to put yourself back in the
culture that was the start of the 1990s. Fast
food restaurants were the ideal place to dine and get take out as
the fast-paced, everyone in the family needs to be somewhere
lifestyle began; people were excited about feasting on the
deliciousness that is greasy burgers, salty fries, thick milkshakes
and the like. There were less concerns of health
risks associated with greasy fast foods than there are today and
while not many foresaw it, this was only the time when the seeds
were merely planted for the childhood obesity epidemic.
From a cultural viewpoint and business viewpoint, not many
people would be lining up for some healthy food, even with the
Disney theme, especially with all these other popular and
established restaurants around.
But what about now? It's been 20+
years since Disney's "experiment" of healthy fast food.
Times have certainly changed about the health concerns with
today's top fast-food restaurants. Disney had
severed its marketing and business ties with McDonald's, taking the
restaurant locations out of its theme parks and resorts.
McDonald's had even brought in the healthy fast food concept
as part of its menu. With the classic, original
Disney Store we remember and love on its way back into the malls and
shopping centers around the world, perhaps we just may see Mickey's
Kitchen return. Especially after more than 20
years, there's a plethora of popular new Disney characters to "add
to the menu." How about Princess Tiana's Gumbo or
Flounder's Fish Sticks? Toss in some of Mulan's
Mandarin Orange Salad or Rapunzel's Tower of Tater Tots?
Finally, let's wash it all down with a pint of Flo's "Motor
Oil," Hercules' Protein Shake, or maybe Jasmine's Jasmine Tea.
Though whatever the Disney Store decides, I believe the
Mickey's Kitchen of healthy fast food concept could work well with
today's health-wise population. I wouldn't be too
surprised if the new concept Imagination Park Disney stores welcome
Chef Mickey as he reopens his kitchen doors.
(Chef Mickey Image from
Hill, Jim. "Monday
Mouse Watch: Busting through the berm." JimHillMedia.com. 11
"Disney to Put Fast-Food Unit in Deep Freeze." Los Angeles Times.
27, March 1992.
Disney Guide. "A brief history of Disney-themed commercial expancions." Asthemouseturns.com. 24 December 2009.
"Disney set to unveil Mickey's Kitchen." Nation's
Restaurant News, 5 March 1990.
"Dining with Disneyana at Mickey's Kitchen." Los Angeles Times,
4 May 1990.
Stevenson, Richard W. "Disney Stores: Magic in
Retail?" New York Times, 4 May 1990.
"Disney Restaurants To Close After Lackluster Performance."
Orlando Sentinel. 28 March 1992.
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