Spotlight Interview: Meet Gary Maggetti
Welcome to our very first Spotlight Interview Series. We are delighted to introduce you to, Gary Maggetti, General Manager of Disney California Adventure Park West. Gary has been a lifelong Disney enthusiast since an early age and has had the good fortune to be a part of the Walt Disney Company since his sophomore year of college. Today, we are honored he has decided to share his magical journey with us and we are happy to be able to share it with you.
How was Disney part of your early years and what steps were taken that led you to the path of becoming part of the Walt Disney Company?
Gary is originally from San Jose, California where he grew up with a fraternal twin, Christopher Maggetti (who is an Executive Chef across the way at the Disneyland Park). The first time Gary and his brother experienced the magic of Disney was at four years old when their parents took them to Disneyland for the very first time. After that, they went every two years.
Gary remembers many special Disney memories from those trips. “ We used to trade-off between staying at the Disneyland Hotel or staying at the Campground. When we were staying at the Disneyland Hotel, my mom always wanted to stay high up in the Marina Tower (which is now the Fantasy Tower), it was the only thing she requested. Chris and I would run around the Hotel exploring, probably floors that we shouldn’t have explored, I would push the button for the basement quite a bit and we would end up running around there too. I became enamored with the hotel, the hotel business, and Disney at an early age. I can even pinpoint the moment that I realized I wanted to be in the hospitality business.”
When the boys were fourteen years old, they took a two-week family vacation to Maui.
He explains. “Growing up in Northern California the water was freezing cold. We dreamt of warm water and wondered where this beach with warm water was that everyone talked about?”
The answer they figured out was Hawaii. When they landed, the first thing they did was change into their swimsuits and run straight to the beach. Within fifteen minutes of playing in the water, Gary swam over a Coral Reef, and cut his foot.
Laughing about it now, “Here I am bleeding out into the ocean, and I remember telling Chris I had cut my foot. He started telling me to get out of the water. I thought he was worried about me, but he was more concerned about sharks.”
They got back to the room and discover the closest doctor was at the Hyatt Regency Maui, in Kaanapali. Gary was driven over and received stitches which required rest and a lot of back and forth between the hotels during the first week.
He explains, “Right next door to the Hyatt Regency was the Maui Marriott, and they had a kids club for teenagers. We thought it was the coolest thing ever. I thought to myself, ‘One day I am going to be the General Manager of this hotel.’”
From there he set his sites on that goal and started reading books about hotels and watched TV shows about the industry. He knew at the start of high school he wanted to go into hospitality management and that is exactly what he did.
He attended Northern Arizona University where he and Cristina met getting their degrees in Hotel and Restaurant Management. The degree required 800 hours of working in the hospitality industry.
Gary thinks back, “At eighteen years old, I had no real idea of what 800 hours looked like, so I wanted to get started right away. I was an out of state student, paying my way through college, and I needed a job.”
The very first weekend he was in Flagstaff, Arizona he went across the street and door to door, to all the front desks of the hotels in the area.
Gary explains. “For those of you who know Flagstaff, it’s a Mom and Pop town about an hour and a half south of the Grand Canyon. I walked into the front desk, and I said, ‘Hello, my name is Gary Maggetti, a Hotel and Restaurant Management student, and I am looking for a job.’ The first hotel didn’t have any jobs, so I went to the next hotel, by the fifth hotel I was a little daunted. I realized that there are Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors, with the same major who needed the same number of hours, and they had a little bit of a head start on me. So I looked around to other places within walking distance of the campus, there were a few table service restaurants, but nobody needs me working in table service as I knew I would drop all the food.”
He then spotted a McDonald’s. He remembered taking in a third-grade field trip to see McDonald’s when he was in elementary school and decided to give it a try.
“I walked into the restaurant right as a bus, full of tourists from the Grand Canyon, pulled in. The bus disgorged starving looking guests. I walked up to the restaurant manager and Introduced myself and said, ‘Hi, I’m Gary Maggetti, a Hotel and Restaurant Management student, and I’m looking for a job’. He said, ‘You’re Hired! Go downstairs, grab a uniform, and come back upstairs’.”
Gary ended up working five days a week, full time, from the first weekend he started college. He got into their management program and went to Hamburger University. He ended up spending four and a half years at McDonald’s and even opened up a few new restaurants.
Tell us about your career with the Walt Disney Company?
Gary’s first opportunity to be a part of the Walt Disney Company was during his Sophmore year when he was accepted into the Walt Disney World College program. The following year he was accepted into the Disneyland College program as a Junior.
“I was a Jungle Cruise Skipper in Florida, and yes, I can still remember the spiel. At Disneyland, I worked in Food and Beverage, which was so much fun. I worked at Coke Corner at the end of Main Street USA, and at Carnation Cafe as a busser. I have a very distinct memory, 25 years ago, when I was on the college program when we had the Lion King parade. I would always ask my Lead if I could fill the condiment cart when the parade was going by – I was such a Disney nerd.”
Gary attributes his Disney and McDonalds experience in helping him get hired into Disneyland during a time when the majority of the leaders had come up through Disney, either through the Parks or the Hotel.
“Little did I know that they were going to be building a new theme park. The leadership at the time felt we had a lot of leaders who had come through Disney but now needed to balance leadership with those who had experience outside the company. I graduated in December of 1995, and I started in the Management Training Program in January 1996, I was very fortunate. I have been with the Disneyland Resort for 23 years.”
Gary has had the honor of thirteen different roles within the Walt Disney Company.
He explains. “Each of the roles I have had has very unique memories for me. They have come at different times in my career, my personal life, and my family life as well. I don’t have a favorite, but I can tell you that there have been certain moments that stick out more than others, like being in the Small World area at the stroke of Midnight on New Year’s Eve for Y2K. We had a lot of contingency plans in place as we weren’t sure what might happen. It was a very special experience.”
He got his start as an entry-level Assistant Manager at the Tomorrowland Restaurants, a few that don’t exist today like Space Place and Lunching Pad, as well as Tomorrowland Terrace (now Galactic Grill) which was the largest restaurant on the West Coast at the time with eighteen registers serving 2000 burgers an hour. He got his first promotion eighteen months into his career when was offered the position of Restaurant Manager for Disneyland Outdoor Vending due to his quick-service restaurant background.
“When they offered me the role for restaurant manager, my leader at the time, had a little subterfuge going on. She asked if can we could meet, as she wanted to chat with me. My manager invited me to meet her at the Hub on Main Street. Then suggested we go for a walk leading me into the Castle and opening a secret door which led us up to the roof of the Castle (which you can’t do anymore). We walked out onto the ledge with a parapet in front of us and balloons to the side of us looking out onto all of Fantasyland. She put her arm around me and said all of this is yours, I would like to offer you the Restaurant Manager role in outdoor vending. Everything you see, you will be managing. I got teared up, this was my first leader of leaders role.”
Other opportunities include being part of Opening Disney California Adventure park.
“For the first time in a job, I had no idea what I was doing. They said, ‘We would love you to do Project Management’. I asked, ‘What is Project Management?’ They told me I would be looking at architectural drawings even though I explained I hadn’t even seen one, I had seen pictures of them, but I couldn’t tell you which one of those was the hand sink. They told me not to worry and they would teach me that stuff. They asked if I could put together the program for Outdoor Vending in California Adventure such as how many churro carts, how many popcorn carts, pretzel carts, how big should the building be that supports Outdoor Vending (ODV), where should it be, and all the logistics. I said, ‘I don’t really know why you are asking me to do this’. It became a turning point for me. I had been at the Resort for three years and wondered if it would be a bad move to do something that I didn’t think I had the skills in?”
Gary was told that it was not subject matter expertise they had identified but his talent for asking good questions and his ability to learn from those who have a lot of experience which then he is able to synthesize into recommendations.
“I went oh, ok, and was able to take the challenge with a little less anxiety.”
He worked on his plan for a year and a half and when Disney’s California Adventure opened he got to reap what he sowed because he became the manager of Outdoor Vending in Disney California Adventure. He then moved on to be the Manager of Training and Development for Food and Beverage followed by Business Reinvention and Initiatives,
“I felt that was too much for a business card, so I changed the department name to Business Solutions. It was really about how to run a Disney Food and Beverage Business, this was a very special role, and I gained a lot of experience in broad-based initiatives, things like the Mystery Shopper Program, and reinventing how the receiving works in an entire food and beverage organization. We built and opened the central bakery. It was a lot of strategic thinking. I was a part of the negotiating team for the labor contracts for food and beverage employees. And then again, just as I finished negotiating the hotel contract for the Food and Beverage team, I was promoted to my first executive role, as Director of Food and Beverage for all three Resort Hotels and the Hotels Banquets Team. So everything we had just negotiated I had to go and implement.”
He ended up swapping positions only after three months with the Food and Beverage Director who was wanting to get back to the Hotels making Gary Director of Food and Beverage for both Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure for 5 years.
“It was special to me that the 50th celebration happened during that time and to experience a theme run through both theme parks seamlessly. That was very very special. It was a powerful and awesome opportunity.”
Next, he was offered a role in Japan as the Director of Food and Beverage for the Tokyo Disneyland Resort, for a little under two years.
“The cultural experience is something that I will take with me always. It was very, very special. I was there around the time the Great East Japan Earthquake happened during March 2011. On the day of the earthquake, I was in Paris at a leadership conference for Food and Beverage. I went back on the first plane allowed to land in Narita. We had Tokyo Disneyland closed for thirty days, and Disney Seas closed for a month and a half. So imagine standing at the Castle in Fantasyland at two o’clock in the afternoon with nobody around. Walt always used to say that you can build this beautiful place, but it takes people to make the dream a reality, it absolutely does! While I enjoy walking through the park before the park opens, this was different. Through that experience and my time there I got to know the Cast Members in Japan and they are really some of the most enduring and fantastic Cast Member that I have ever worked with. I spent about a year and a half there and came back just in time to reopen Disney’s California Adventure.”
He came back as the General Manager of Food and Beverage and Merchandise when all the selections for the talent planning and the finishing touches of what the restaurants and retail would look like for CarsLand and Buena Vist Street. Staying for three years he moved into a support role as Director of Food and Beverage but this time it was for Disneyland Resort Hong Kong, Japan, and Alani. Then in 2016, the organization of directorships changed from functional discipline (Attractions, Merchandise, Entertainment) to geography (by land).
“I came back into operations and have been in the same role since as General Manager of Pixar Pier, Paradise Garden’s Park, Outdoor Ventures, Park Banquets and all of our Festivals for the Parks. This has been an extraordinary experience because we have been able to lean into Festivals as a limited time offer to enhance what California Adventure is really all about. It has been very, very popular and fulfilling.”
The 4 Now Questions ~
What is your Favorite Attraction?
“My favorite Attraction, hands down, is Pirates of the Caribbean and for Disney’s California Adventure it is The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure.“
What are your favorite food items in the Parks?
“So it depends on what I am in the mood for, I certainly love the food in both theme Parks, we have really upped our game in the last 8 to 10 years in particular, with step-function improvement in the last 4 years. I am a huge fan of the Bread Bowls at Pacific Wharf Cafe and at Royle Street Veranda in New Orleans Square – I love those. The fried chicken at Plaza Inn is also amazing.”
Who is your favorite Disney character?
“Pluto. He made me smile one day when I was in a bad mood at work many years ago … ever since then, he can always do that. He makes me smile every time I see him.“
What would you like to share with Guest’s that is a special recommendation, a tip from you, or not well known?
“In the Lamplight Lounge here in Disney’s California Adventure, there is a special room called “The Office.” We opened Lamplight Lounge last year with Pixar Pier, a super successful restaurant, kind of like your California Casual Gastro Pub that is Pixar themed. There is a room called” The Office,” that you actually have to go backstage to get to. Often, we like to delight and surprise our Guests, if they have a larger party (like or 6 or 8 Guests), we will ask them if they would like to sit in the office, they usually say they don’t know what we are talking about, so we ask them to come and see it. Pleasantly surprised is the response we normally get. It has its own balcony overlooking the Launch of the Incredicoaster, and there are games inside such as checkers and backgammon you can play and it’s very private. There is a unique way to get into the room and there is some work you have to do as well since it was a backstage area. So that is fun, and you can always ask if “the Office” is available.
There is also the Alfresco Tasting Terrace, an area that a lot of our Guest’s don’t know about, it is on the second floor of the Golden Vine Winery. It’s a full bar, but they also specialize in wines from the Disney Family Wineries; winemakers that have a special Disney connection. Like Fess Parker and Kurt Russel, as a Disney Legends, etc. Sonoma Terrace, if you are facing the Golden Vine Winery, it is the bar on the left, mostly beer with a little bit of wine. It is a great place to relax. During the Food and Wine Festival this last spring we brought in some lounge furniture, it was so lovely, it was a nice respite as it was off the beaten path a little bit. A beautiful place to relax and wind down.
Lastly, we have a new brunch at Lamplight Lounge, Saturday’s and Sunday’s from opening till 2 pm and starting Friday, July 19th they will be doing brunch as well. It is the best breakfast at the Disneyland Resort, hands down, Sorry Chris (says with a wink). Lamplight lounge does have some delicious breakfast cocktails like the Cinnamon Toast Cocktail, Mimosa Flight and the Beermosa, which is my favorite with a blood orange IPA and orange juice. The French Toast is off the charts, and the Vegan item is Potato Flautas with a Plant-based Chorizo, Vegan Piquillo Crema, Serrano-Tomatillo Salsa, Arugula Salad, and Escabèche. It is out of this world; the Brunch Burger is also amazing.”
Ask for “The Office” at Lamplight Lounge on Pixar Pier
Relax and unwind at Alfresco Tasting Terrace
Try the new Brunch Friday – Sunday at Lamplight lounge