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Downtown Disney Unveils Uptown Mexican Cuisine

Michelin chef opens three new restaurants

A Michelin-starred chef with a mission to introduce unconventional Mexican cuisine in Southern California is playing a part in Disneyland Resort’s efforts to attract a more upscale audience through an almost eight-year transformation of the resort’s 20-acre Downtown Disney District.

Disneyland welcomed three new Mexican restaurants at the Downtown Disney shopping center this month to replace the former Catal and Uva locations with new menus designed by Chef Carlos Gaytán.

This recent investment is aimed at boosting revenue and attendance at its parks, which have become a key “growth driver” for Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) as its streaming, television and film segments have recently faced increasing marketplace challenges.

Sales generated from Disney parks, hotels and cruise lines make up the company’s experiences division, which has been driving earnings growth for the past year.

The entertainment giant said last September it plans to double its capital expenditures over the next 10 years to $60 billion that will go to investing in expansion projects across its location portfolio.

“We are turbocharging growth in our experiences business with a number of near- and long-term strategic investments,” Chief Executive Bob Iger said in a statement this month.

One of these investments includes a multiyear plan for future development at Disneyland in Anaheim dubbed DisneylandForward, which received final approvals from the Anaheim City Council this month.

The expansion will add a mix of new visitor attractions such as theme parks, hotels, dining and parking within the over 500-acre resort over the next several decades. Specific plans for what Disney wants to build have not yet been disclosed.

“Anaheim is projected to see $15 million to $244 million in additional yearly revenue at complete buildout of what’s allowed under DisneylandForward,” the city said in a statement.

Downtown Disney was built as part of a previous expansion project the company gained approvals for in the 1990s. As a result, the company built its second theme park California Adventure and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel.

Disney “has a lot of demand and a lot of IP (intellectual property),” Jessica Ehrlich, a research analyst from BofA Securities, told the Business Journal.

“What will bring people and demand are new attractions, and new lands are another level.”

Newcomers

The shopping district’s new restaurants that opened on May 1—Paseo, Céntrico and Tiendita—are to be followed by at least five more currently or soon-to-be under construction for planned openings this year and the next.

Downtown Disney, the Disneyland-adjacent shopping center with over 40 stores across 30,000 square feet of gross leasable space, has either torn down or remodeled about half of its existing structures to add businesses that the company says will be “a more innovative, broader and diverse collection” than the existing tenants.

Disney approached the owner and managing company of the previous restaurants, the Patina Restaurant Group, to request an update to the dining options.

Patina hired Gaytán, the first Mexican-born chef to win a Michelin star, to bring three new original concepts centered on Mexican cuisine compared to Catal and Uva, which served Mediterranean food.

Paseo took over the redesigned and former Catal’s sit-down dining space on the second floor.

Céntrico replaced Uva in its open-air bar and outdoor seating area in the center of the district. Tiendita serves a new to-go menu in the previous Catal bar counter room underneath Paseo.

These locations are Gaytán’s first ventures on the West Coast and join his existing restaurants in Chicago and Mexico.

Disney “wanted to look at elevating their Mexican cuisine,” Patina President John Kolaski told the Business Journal.

Food Stops

Paseo will serve an upscale menu of Mexican cuisine blended with Gaytán’s French culinary technique, such as mextlapique trout and mama’s cochinita pibil, with Céntrico focusing on smaller dishes and cocktails, such as a burrito norteño and huarache de asada.

“I really focus on the Mexico that people don’t know,” Gaytán told the Business Journal.

Tiendita, on the other hand, will sell quick-service Mexican street food including tostadas, street corn and agua frescas.

Until now, the most recent updates to Downtown Disney’s longstanding restaurants have included a design and menu refresh of the Jazz Kitchen Coastal Grill & Patio and Beignets Expressed, which reopened in June last year.

Earl of Sandwich, previously on the west side of the shopping center, has moved to a couple temporary locations in anticipation of its new two-story location. Its current space, and the former La Brea Bakery, will be renovated into Porto’s Bakery.

More changes coming to the center include an unnamed barbecue spot and steakhouse concept taking over the former Tortilla Jo’s, which closed in April.

The site of the torn down AMC movie theater is under construction for the new Din Tai Fung restaurant opening this summer which will be the restaurant’s second OC location. Its first location is inside South Coast Plaza, next to the former Sears space.

Four additional culinary venues, from Korean rice bowls to a chicken shop, will open under one roof called the Parkside Market run by Levy Restaurants. This will be the first food hall to open at Downtown Disney.

Downtown Disney reported $337 million in taxable sales for the 12-months ended June 2023, and was ranked as OC’s eighth-largest shopping center, according to Business Journal research.

OC Destinations 

Patina has opened and operated restaurants at Downtown Disney since that portion of Disneyland opened in 2001.

Founded in 1989, Patina started its business relationship with the Disney company with the opening of Naples Ristorante e Bar, which has not been scheduled for any major changes.

The company later added Tortilla Jo’s, Catal and Uva, which all operated at the center until the recent turnaround.

“Our founders focused on cultural institutions and landmark destinations for restaurants, and what’s a greater landmark than Disney,” Patina President Kolaski said.

“The focus was on being able to come and elevate the culinary offerings across the Disney portfolio,” he added.

The restaurant operator also has a few establishments at Walt Disney World in Florida. It counts a total collection of 38 restaurants in the U.S.

Patina’s parent company, New York City-based Delaware North, acquired the company a few years ago after becoming a majority stakeholder in 2014.

Delaware North counts even more restaurants, sports venues, hotels and retailers worldwide under its ownership.

“We’re able to take our learnings from their sports services division, travel, parks, and airport teams and bring it here,” Kolaski said.

Disney is not the only cultural hub where Patina has planted a stake in Orange County.

Patina also operates Leatherby’s Café Rouge and George’s Café at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa and Tangata Restaurant at the Bower’s Museum in Santa Ana.

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