Theme Park of the Day: Disney's Animal Kingdom

Disney World loses its top chef

February 26, 2009, 5:45 PM · Scott Joseph reported yesterday that Dieter Hannig has taken the Disney management buy-out and is leaving Walt Disney World. If you're not familiar with the name, he's the person in charge of dining at the Walt Disney World Resort. (Vice President of the Food and Beverage division was the official title.) He came to Orlando from Disneyland Paris in 1988 and changed operations in Central Florida to give individual chefs greater autonomy over their restaurants.

The Orlando Sentinel chased the story today. Here is its version.

Hannig, 59, is moving with his wife to Panama, where they will be opening an organic food and yoga resort. Something that off the "normal" wall would seem to beg for a snarky comment... if it weren't such a cool-sounding idea. Hope he has a great time. Anyone who tries to elevate the food experience at theme parks deserves a special commendation from fans, in my book.

As for other passages, I wanted to take a couple grafs of your reading time to note the closing of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. As some of you might know, I used to be the editor of the Rocky's website. In fact, Theme Park Insider was born while I worked at the Rocky. Thanks to a bone-headed management policy at the time, we were not allowed to use Rocky staff writers to create original content for the website when I worked there. So, to get that content, I had the then-novel idea of conning asking readers to contribute content to the site. We started with reader reviews for restaurants and movies, then added birth and wedding announcements, eventually moving on to reader votes and comments on the paper's editorials.

While I was building these interactive features for the site, I became intrigued by the idea of a publication that was built on nothing but reader-contributed content. So, in my own time at home and on my personal computer, I built a new Web application to allow people to rate and review individual attractions at Disney World and Disneyland, the first site online where people could do that. Of course, that application grew into Theme Park Insider.

My former co-workers at the Rocky have done great work over the years, and deserved better than the bad strategic decisions that left them sitting ducks in a deteriorating economy. If you live near Denver, pick up the last copy of the Rocky tomorrow, will ya? And if you're near the 16th Street Mall tomorrow afternoon, and see a bunch of journalists in a bar, buy one of 'em a drink and say 'thanks.' They've earned it.

Replies (5)

February 26, 2009 at 6:29 PM · That's a damn shame, about as depressing as it gets in the theme park world. I always look forward to dining at WDW - there are some excellent eateries outside of the parks.

Also sucks about the Rocky. Sort of sickening to see the little guy lose in this economy while major companies are receiving bail-out money (and then trying to spend it on personal jets).

February 26, 2009 at 8:20 PM · The next question is...who is now responsible for the duties of a top chef? Is his replacement going to deliver the same quality? I'm also thinking that they will probably make other cuts in the food service dept...such as cheaper ingredients. It's a fairly standard restaurant practice to do that, and a lot of times it ends up affecting the quality. Hopefully that won't happen too much.

Does anyone here watch or listen to ESPN? I do, and I'm getting tired of hearing all of the anchors and show hosts promote and kiss the butt of Disney World all week. They are doing several of their shows on location in the park this week, and obviously the mandate has come down from the mothership to shamelessly plug every single attraction they have. Guess they are pulling out all the stops to fill those hotel rooms.

It is sad about the Rocky Mountain News. Unfortunately, this may become an all too common tale soon. The social relevance of the printed newspaper has changed since the internet age. Unfortunately, the way some of them do business has not, and so they fail. Bad economic conditions always have an affect on companies, but it's those times that separate the men from the boys in the business world. Call it economical Darwinism. A good company will survive or even thrive because they have foresight and are prepared, or they know how to matter what it is they sell.

February 27, 2009 at 7:08 AM · Well ESPN is owned by Disney and they are freaked out by the low numbers they might get this year. ESPN weekend, go figure....

The top chef leaving is kinda sad due to theme park food, especially with the addition of IOA to the mix, has become much better and much more than just popcorn and hotdogs. However, its just the top man that has changed and his policy, if I was not mistaken, was to give more freedom to his chiefs in his resturant. So Japan, France, Yachttsman, etc should more or less be the same right? I think the economy will be the driving factor of food at Disney and other theme parks. It will be interesting since there has been the same "top chef" since I have gone to Disney World all these years. It is interesting, however, that he came from Disneyland Paris Resort. Maybe its due to his absence, but DLP does not have that inspiring food. Sure, there is a couple of good places, but WDW appears to have gotten the deal in that one.

Its really sad about the paper though Robert. This creation, though, is fantastic! You know you are doing something right when Six Flags, Hard Rock Park, and Universal seem to at least acknowlege the sites exsistance and reviews. I bet Disney does too, but doesn't make it so obvious.

Anyway, does anybody get anything for winning an award from TPI (Best Hotel, Best Resturant, etc)? Mythos seems to really really like that they keep on winning!

February 27, 2009 at 8:32 AM · Well, Robert, if it's any consolation, we very much appreciate (well, I know I do) all the hard work you put into TPI. You're one of the many big things that make this website worth coming to.

As for the Dieter Hannig story, that's a darn shame. I hope things don't change for the worse.

February 27, 2009 at 9:48 PM · I agree with Mr. Malone; I much appreciate the articles you've written here for us to read and to keep up to date with our shared fandom in the theme and amusement park industry. You do provide an excellent service for us, and indeed, without you, this site would not exist, and therefore, a nice little reference guide for one of my most avid hobbies would never have existed. And likely, I wouldn't have gone to some of the parks that I've been to, and therefore, would not have enjoyed some seriously thrilling rides and experiences.

It is a shame Disney is losing its park's best chef, but I'm sure the man will find much success in his venture.

Panama, however, doesn't sound quite like the best choice for a yoga/organic foods market...I's Panama. Maybe a restaurant in an affluently upper-middle class city would be a better location, considering most mid-upper class people tend to be more sensitive towards organic-eating these days, at least here...

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