Above: The Frito Kid vending machine in Frontierland’s Casa de Fritos. During the 1950s and 1960s, Disneyland guests could insert a nickel into the coin box and the Fritos official mascot, The Frito Kid, would come to life, lick his lips, and call for Klondike the Miner to send a bag of Fritos down the chute. The stereophonic audio track changed with each purchase, so each customer would hear a different interaction between the Kid and Klondike. Photo: Spacemountainmike, used under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
by Jim Denney
Just in time for your Super Bowl party comes the true origin story of Doritos chips. And yes, Doritos were born at Disneyland.
Doritos (the name is Spanish for “little pieces of gold”) were invented at a Mexican restaurant in Frontierland then known as Casa de Fritos. (The restaurant was later renamed Casa Mexicana, and is now known as Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante). Casa de Fritos was located next to the Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland attraction (which was replaced in 1979 by the runaway mine train rollercoaster Big Thunder Mountain Railroad).
Walt Disney financed Disneyland in part by lining up corporate sponsors for various attractions, stores, and restaurants around the park. One early sponsor was Fritos, a company founded in 1932 by food entrepreneur Charles Elmer Doolin (now part of PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division). Walt persuaded Doolin to open a Fritos-themed Mexican restaurant in Disneyland. Casa de Fritos opened on August 11, 1955, less than a month after Disneyland’s opening day. (Fritos, incidentally, is Spanish for “little fried things.”)
The food at Casa de Fritos was a fusion of traditional Tex-Mex and Fritos-inspired innovations, such as a Frito Chili Pie. Here’s the 1955 Casa de Fritos Menu (and take note of those 1955 prices):
Taco in a “Tacup” — 25 cents
Mexican Rice — 25 cents
Tamales (3) — 35 cents
Chili and Beans — 35 cents
Frito Chili Pie — 55 cents
Frito Tamale Special — 75 cents
Mexican Combination Plate — $1.00
Enchilada (2) — 45 cents
Fritos Free with Each Dish
The Taco in a “Tacup” was an Elmer Doolin invention and a precursor to today’s taco salad. Doolin created a device that looked like tongs, but with two tart molds at the end of the tongs. One mold would fit within the other mold with a tortilla sandwiched between them. The cook would squeeze the molds together, so that the tortilla was forced into the shape of a bowl with scalloped sides. Then the cook would submerge the mold with the tortilla into the deep fryer, so that the tortilla would fry up hot and crisp. Then taco ingredients — seasoned ground beef, chopped lettuce and tomatoes, and shredded cheese — were piled into the crisp “Tacup” shell and served
All non-Fritos ingredients served at Casa de Fritos, such as the tortillas, meat, beans, and fresh produce, were supplied by Alex Foods, located just a few blocks from Disneyland. Alex Foods supplied most of the restaurants in the Park at that time. (Alex Foods is now called Don Miguel Mexican Foods and is based in the City of Orange).
In the early 1960s, an Alex Foods salesman noticed that Casa de Fritos was tossing unused tortillas in the trash at the end of each day. He suggested that the cook cut the surplus tortillas into triangles, deep fry them, and season them in the style of a Zapotec Mexican snack called totopos. The cook took the salesman’s advice and fried up the first batch of what we now know as Doritos. Casa de Fritos offered them to customers free of charge, as an alternative to the free bag of Fritos that came with every meal. The new chips were a hit with Disneyland guests.
Without telling the Fritos company, Casa de Fritos added the tortilla chips to the menu. One day in 1964, Frito-Lay marketing V.P. Arch West visited Casa de Fritos and noticed the wildly popular new snack food on the menu. West made a deal with Alex Foods to produce the tortilla chips in large quantities. Officially named Doritos, West test-marketed the chips in southern California. They sold out faster than Alex Foods could produce them.
Soon, Frito-Lay took Doritos production in-house, producing the chips at its Tulsa, Oklahoma plant and distributing them nationwide. The first taco-flavored Doritos appeared in 1967, and today the snack comes in a profusion of colors and flavors.
Consider this: If it hadn’t been for Walt Disney and Disneyland, there’d be no Doritos at your Super Bowl party — a deep thought to ponder during the halftime show.
Bonus: Here’s the Recipe for the Casa de Fritos original Frito Chili Pie . . .
Ladle chili and beans (either canned or your favorite recipe) into a bowl and top with cheese, chopped onions, and Fritos.
Additions: sour cream, guacamole, salsa, and/or jalapeños.
Some folks like to open a single-serving bag of Fritos and pour chili, cheese, and chopped onions over the Fritos, then eat the Frito Chili Pie with a spoon, straight from the bag.
By the way, Walt Disney’s favorite meal was a simple bowl of chili and beans. As former Disney CEO Card Walker once said, “Walt didn’t like the food over in London, so he’d bring chili and beans and other canned foods he liked to eat. At the Dorchester Hotel, where we always stayed, the waiters would serve him chili and beans and crackers.”
Walt’s chili recipe was simple: Combine one can of Dennison’s Chili with one can of Hormel Chili. Heat, stir, and enjoy.
ABOUT JIM DENNEY AND WALT’S DISNEYLAND: Jim Denney has more than 120 books to his credit, and has co-written books with sports stars and Hollywood celebrities. His previous book on Walt Disney, How To Be Like Walt (co-written with Orlando Magic founder Pat Williams) has remained in print for a dozen years, and has garnered 4.8 out of 5 stars in 185 customer reviews on Amazon.com. Walt’s Disneyland: It’s Still There If You Know Where to Look by Jim Denney (Anaheim, CA: Writing in Overdrive Books, May 2017) is available at Amazon.com; Paperback $15.99; Ebook $5.99.
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