My family loves Disneyland, and as annual pass holders, we visit there many times a year. Over the years we have been fortunate to meet and to get to know a living icon on Main Street USA. Chef Oscar Martinez!
Chef Oscar is the longest tenured Disneyland cast member. He joined the company Dec. 29, 1956, and has been a Disneyland mainstay for 59 years – and at Carnation Café since 1967! You will find him at the restaurant, in his tall chef’s toque, smiling and greeting guests, when he is not in the kitchen making his signature recipes.
The first time we met Chef Oscar, was the same as millions of Disneyland guests over the decades. Chef Oscar was greeting guests at the Carnation Café. His love of the park and his job shows in his interactions with park guests. That first meeting, we had a brief chat and he continued to share the Magic with other guests.
Then, a few months later, as our family was walking down Main Street USA, we heard a voice call out “Hi Sweetie, how was your drive down from Martinez?” Where did that voice come from? How did they know we drove? How did it know we are from the town of Martinez? It was Chef Oscar!
He recognized my daughter and wife, and recalled that we were from a town the same as his last name. Wow! This is before the new high tech Disneyland WiFi and microchip guest enhancements that allow a Princess to know a kid’s name. Oscar remembered us and made us feel at home in his Land.
That was back when my daughter Belle was 3 years old. Now she is ten, and knows Oscar as a fixture of the park. Every visit to Disneyland we say “HI” and share hugs with Chef Oscar. He is like the Mayor, Mickey Mouse, and the ghost of Walt all wrapped up together. He always has rich stories from the fantastic past of the park. Eventually we got to know him well, and even met his family.
Born in Texas, Chef Oscar came to California as a young man, following his then girl friend Shirley Ann. He started as a busboy in a Disneyland restaurant, with no previous industry experience. Shirley Ann worked at Carnation Plaza, where she was the preferred milkshake maker of Walt Disney. Oscar and Shirley Ann married shortly after arriving in California. Over the years, Oscar worked his way up in the kitchen and eventually was a chef creating new recipes for the menu. Sadly, Shirley Ann lost a battle with cancer last year.
Oscar Martinez exemplifies the customer service Magic that makes Disneyland so special. He is not selling park tickets, or meals at the Carnation Café, he is serving guests as any host would. Making them feel at home, comfortable, familiar. This is how we can all perform better in our lives and jobs. It is not about the title, it is about the role. As Walt Disney himself said: “What ever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it they will want to come back and see you do it again and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.”
The Carnation Café is a favorite meal stop for us, not only because of Chef Oscar. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, and have wholesome meals that work on a family vacation budget.
Though Chef Oscar arrives before the park opens to assist with the café prep and setup, he is now more of an ambassador, than a cook. His long tenure and warm personality make him a fan favorite on par with Mickey himself. Say HI to Chef Oscar next time you are on Main Street USA.