Disney is everywhere.
In popular culture, in marketing, in business, the Burbank, California headquartered company has a hand in a bit of everything. It even has influence in Fondren. It is a small world after all.
Take the case of a certain pizza restaurant. If Disney’s standards include creating the right experience and doing so in a fun and innovative way, count Sal & Mookie’s a copy mouse — er, cat.
One of Mickey’s biggest fans is Liz Lancaster, who has been to Disney a dozen times in her life. She is marketing, promotions and event planning manager for Sal & Mookie’s parent company, Mangia Bene, and says her love affair with Disney weighs heavily on her life, including her career.
“Definitely, all the time — everyday,” Lancaster chants affirmatively over a cup of coffee at another Mangia Bene property, Broad Street Baking Company. “(Co-owner) Jeff (Good) always says to me, ‘Don’t run away with the circus!’ He knows how obsessed I am with Disney.”
But for he and business partner Dan Blumenthal’s company, Lancaster’s obsession is a good thing.
“Disney is an amazing balance between control and creativity,” she explains. “What Disney has done – how it has basically taken over the world – obviously it got there with Walt’s determination to create a certain type of brand. Our brand in Jackson has a huge impact on the community. And, yes, I’d say we’re Disney-esque, always doing the right thing, always creating the right experience.”
Lancaster recalls her earliest memories, as far back as four years old, seeing a re-release of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” at the former DeVille Cinema. “Since I can remember, Disney was a part of my childhood,” she says. “I had a Beauty and the Beast mirror toy I took every day to pre-school at St. Luke’s. My favorite movie was ‘Fantasia’ – for the music. If my parents needed me to sit, they just put it on and I was glued.”
Over the years, Lancaster has taken trips with family and trips with friends. Each time, the experience is a bit different. One of the most memorable ones came as part of a class she took in college. A 2011 Millsaps College graduate, Lancaster was a student of the school’s Disney and the American Way of Life course, taught by Archeologist and professor George Bey along with Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students, Brit Katz. While at Disney World, Lancaster had to complete a research project titled, “Attention to Detail Through the Epcot World Showcase.”
“That class was probably the light of my time at Millsaps,” she says with a contented glaze over her eyes. “Our group was so close-knit with so much passion, I think I created closer relationships in that class than in any other I have taken. For me, it wasn’t about making a grade.”
Lancaster is the defacto planner anytime she is among the group. She planned the last trip her family took to Disney, and just last week, returned from another, a twist of fate opportunity. “A friend of mine won a trip for four, all expenses paid,” she explains. “I was just saying a week before she asked, ‘I don’t know when my next trip will be,’ and then she called.” She’s already started planning her next vacation, maybe the Epcot Food & Wine Festival (Lancaster has been to this once before, but this time, may add a marathon and her sister to the mix).
Making Magic Back Home
While Disney is fun, Lancaster says she is looking for inspiration to help her do well professionally and to help grow her community. “What I have taken away from all aspects of Disney is that customer service is key,” she says. “No matter how many times we may screw up an order, we always go above and beyond to make it right because, the customer is always right. It’s about getting to not only a ‘yes,’ but creating a place for a great experience. We will do whatever it takes because we want them to come back.”
She spoke of her trip last week and a prime example of the influential Disney way. “At one of the restaurants in Epcot, they brought out a wrong glass of wine,” she explains. “We didn’t even know it was the wrong one, but our server did. If she had offered to replace it, that would have been fine. But, no, she made it right — with the additional glass of the right wine and a dessert. It was like, ‘I messed up and you didn’t know it, but I will take the blame and make it right for you.’ That’s pretty powerful stuff.”
It’s the same takeaway, she says, for Fondren. “Everyone (at Disney) is family. Whether they know each other or not, if they work in the park, there’s the same mentality and goal to create the right experience. It’s a team effort and one bad egg can ruin what you have. Everyone is working together, being supportive and creating the brand of who they are. It’s about the right people making magic happen. That’s the difference.”
Lancaster says she encouraged a friend who was going overseas to teach English to watch “Frozen” before he left. “They’ll all be singing “Let It Go,” she told him. And sure enough, when she Skyped with the class to help them practice their language skills, they broke into song. “They sing it every single morning. That’s how they learn English.” Even in South Korea, “Let It Go” – Disney – has taken over.
“I can’t get away from it if I tried. It’s here all the time — and I love it.”