After more than 60 years serving up magic and memories at The Happiest Place on Earth, Carnation Café chef Oscar Martinez retired Wednesday, Sept. 27.
Oscar spent his final work day at Disneyland Park soaking up well-wishes from hundreds of Cast Members, including many of the chefs he worked with over the decades. Following a farewell celebration at the Main Street Opera House, the line to greet him stretched around the lobby, as Oscar served up warm smiles, handshakes and hugs one last time. "A lot of people tell me, you're more famous than Mickey Mouse!" he joked.
It was 10 years ago when I officially met Oscar Martinez. I was working the late shift at the Disneyland Resort. At the time, I was a Security officer at a backstage gate when this seemingly regular unassuming man was leaving from his shift. My Security partner remarked to the man as he passing through, carrying a box, "Hey Oscar! What's in the box?"
I did not know who the man was, as cracked open the box to reveal a small statue for his achievement of service with the company. He had just finished his 50th year. I was amazed at the statue's detail. It was a statue of Mickey Mouse sitting on a stool painting a small portrait of this man, know as Oscar. My partner whispered to me, "Oscar is the longest active Cast Member at the Park." I reached over and shook his hand. It was like I was meeting Walt Disney. I was flabbergasted.
From that day on, Oscar made it a point to shake my hand every time I ran into him. As my career grew at the Resort, I would often stop him back stage and we would quickly talk. We became familiar acquaintances and I would tease him about when he was going to retire. On his 55th anniversary, he told me he was going to retire the following year. Well the following year, I would tease and he would say the same thing, next year. Each year came and went until this year. I was now stunned to hear that his few last days finally upon us. Like many of Cast Member, I went to his retirement celebration with a little sadness in my heart because I will no longing be able to casually visit with him. Yet I was very happy for him to retire and enjoy the last chapter in his life. I made my way through the crowd to see his face light up as he shook my hand for what could be our last time. I knew is Walt would have been very proud of Oscar.
What I know this man was with no formal cooking experience, Oscar started his career as a busboy at Disneyland’s Fantasy 1 restaurant in 1956, the year after the park opened. Though he never personally spoke to his boss, he previously has said his fondest memory was watching Walt Disney walk up and down Main Street, U.S.A. taking meticulous notes about the theme park.
Over the years, Martinez worked in several roles including teaching employees the “Disney Way” of dressing – at the time, men had short haircuts, no mustaches, shiny shoes and black socks, and there was no makeup for the girls. He later trained employees how to cook on a grill.
In 1967, a manager noticed Martinez’s speed and efficiency and tried him out on the cooking grill at the Carnation Café. It’s at the cafe where Martinez left his most indelible mark.
Disney executives noticed Martinez’s flavorful breakfast potatoes, cooked with butter and green and red peppers, and later put it on the café’s menu.
And know you can have his recipe too!
Oscar says he'll miss the feeling of walking through the Carnation Café door, but promises he'll be back to visit as a Guest. "Every time I come here, it makes me happy … I'm going to miss it."
Oscar also plans to travel, visit with family, and just relax in retirement. Cheers to you, Oscar!