Disneyland, the iconic theme park in Anaheim, California, officially opened its gates for the first time on July 17, 1955. The park quickly became a cultural touchstone around the world. In 1959, Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Premier, visited the United States and requested to visit the park; this request was famously denied. A few years later, the Shah of Iran visited the park and rode the Matterhorn roller coaster with Walt Disney himself. (There’s even a video of the ride, replete with campy music, available here.) Disneyland bridged cultures in a way few others have.
Perhaps realizing the future value of an association with Disneyland, Charles Elmer Doolin, the founder and then-CEO of the Frito Company, sought to open a restaurant at the park just months after its opening. That restaurant, named “Casa de Fritos,” strived to introduce Mexican cuisine (loosely defined) to a world of tourists (and to a lesser degree, locals) who typically did not have an opportunity to experience such food. The restaurant was probably more a marketing scheme than itself a moneymaker. Fritos-brand corn chips were the ubiquitous snack at the Casa — according to a tribute site called “DaveLand” (which has many historic photos of the restaurant) there was even a “Fritos Kid” vending machine selling Fritos for a nickel. Doolin and company hoped that Casa de Fritos would introduce a new generation of consumers to their corn chips, and Fritos would be the one “Mexican” thing tourists would continue to purchase when they returned home from vacation.
As any Mexican restaurant would, Casa de Fritos sold tortillas. They did not make them on-site. Rather, they purchased them from a local food distributor named Alex Foods. It is a fool’s errand to try and guess exactly the right number of tortillas needed for any given day, and one does not want to run out, so Casa de Fritos regularly purchased more than needed. According to OC Weekly, at one point in the 1960s, one of the Alex Foods salesmen saw the wasted tortillas at Casa de Fritos and suggested that the chefs cut them up and fry them, turning them into chips. The chefs took the salesman’s advice, added some Mexican seasonings, and gave them to customers.
They were a hit. By the mid-1960s, Arch West, then Fritos’ Vice President of Marketing, noticed the popularity of the chips and approached Alex Foods about making them at scale, intending to produce them as a regional snack food. West and his team came up with a name for the chip — a Spanish word meaning “little golden things” — and found that their successes as Casa de Fritos were not only replicated, but exceeded. In 1966, these chips — which we now know as Doritos — were a hit nationwide.
Today, Frito-Lay sells roughly $4 to $5 billion worth of Doritos each year.
From the Archives: Sandwich Law: Wrap some meat and vegetables in a tortilla. Is it a sandwich? Here’s the story of a court that had to decide exactly that.
Related: $100 of Doritos. Roughly 24,000 calories of them, too.