Dollywood’s Award-winning Food—The Recipe for Success
PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. – While many people may not associate a spectacular dining experience with a trip to a theme park, Dollywood’s guests have known for years the food available here always is worth taking the time to savor. In fact, Dollywood’s fabulous foods have earned Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Award for Best Theme Park Food the past three years!
Amusement Today, a publication focused on the theme park industry, presents Golden Ticket Awards in several categories each year. Since 2012, Dollywood has served up the Best Theme Park Food award, something which comes as no surprise to park visitors. For Joe Lindsey, Director of Food Services, and his entire team, food is as important to the Dollywood experience as the park’s signature attractions and entertainment.
“Our staff takes great pride in the food we serve,” Lindsey said. “If our staff isn’t proud of it, we don’t serve it. Our staff also has a great love for our guests, and we want to treat them to a great experience. Our team wants to hear they’ve done well and that our guests have enjoyed their time at Dollywood.
“The way we prepare some of our foods creates a unique taste. We have skillets, grills and smokers which create a taste you don’t find everywhere. Above all, quality is most important. There are times we could bring in a less expensive product, but we opt for higher quality. At the end of the day, every person on this team wants to be proud of what we’re serving.”
Although achieving the industry’s highest mark is a major team accomplishment, Dollywood’s food services team already has their sights set on winning the award for the fourth consecutive year in 2015.
“We’re very proud of these awards, but we’re only going to put more time and effort in to making sure our guests receive the best product we can give them. These awards mean we are giving our guests what they want and with the talented team we have here at Dollywood, we certainly plan for that to continue.”
Part of Dollywood’s culinary appeal is the variety of items available. Lindsey said the team puts much thought and effort into creating the park’s diverse menus.
“We look at trends and what is going on in our industry,” he explained. “We also determine if a new product fits the East Tennessee and Appalachian influences which Dollywood’s food is about. Of course, Festival of Nations (the park’s annual springtime international celebration) allows us to broaden our scope a little more. Many times, we’ll see something and try to figure out how we can make it work at Dollywood. We do a lot of research to determine which trends and ideas work with what we are doing here.” In other words, a little bit of everything goes into Dollywood’s food team’s recipe for success.
Each day, the team creates delectable dishes ranging from classic Southern barbeque and smoked pit ham to mouth-watering sandwiches and fresh salads. Perhaps the most popular items are the bakery delights, which range from cookies to homemade cinnamon rolls.
Two monster items found their way onto the menu as well. At Lumberjack’s Pizza, guests can satisfy their appetite—and the appetites of several friends—with a 12-pound, 30-inch pizza baked in a 10,000-pound wood-fired oven. To top it off, Dollywood's 25-pound apple pie—baked in a 17-inch cast iron skillet—allows guests to indulge their sweet tooth in style. Made from scratch, each slice of the mammoth pie weighs a whopping three pounds. If guests haven’t saved room for dessert, the pie can be shipped.
The Shopping List
Creating such a wide-ranging menu certainly has its logistical challenges, something the Dollywood foods team meets every day. Due to the large volume of food, the team scrutinizes sales data to help with ordering and preparation. Delivery alone is quite the operation.
“On a busy night, we’ll have up to four trucks of food delivered once the park closes,” Lindsey said. “A typical order is 2,000 cases of food, but we bring in as many as 5,000 cases for our high attendance days. The trucks start deliveries at 11 p.m. and leave by 7 a.m. The semi-trucks offload to pickup trucks which are driven through the park. Each pallet is then broken down and delivered by hand truck to specific locations.”
If a typical season exists, it might include the preparation of:
- 24,000 pounds of smoked sausage
- 47,340 pounds of cheese for pizza topping alone
- 12,950 pounds of chocolate chips
- 428,756 cookies
- 280,000 hamburger patties
Most items are cooked on location, with additional production areas able to send products to smaller park concessions areas. From the massive buffets at Miss Lillian’s Chicken House and Aunt Granny’s, the Southern classics found at Granny Ogle’s Ham ‘n’ Beans, or a trip to the ‘50s at Red’s Diner, finding enough time to sample all of Dollywood’s culinary offerings is the biggest challenge for guests.
For hungry guests looking to eat on the run, Dollywood has that covered as well. Stands throughout the park offer up classics such as foot-long corndogs, smoked sausages and cheeseburgers to satisfying treats like funnel cakes and kettle corn. Fruit and vegetable cups, yogurt parfaits and chef salads are found across Dollywood.
A Fresh Start
As diets have changed and food sensitivities have become more widespread, Dollywood’s foods team has adapted to meet the needs of the park’s guests. Thanks to Start Fresh, a program created by Dollywood employees, vegetarian and gluten-free items are available throughout the park. Guests with food allergies also have various choices.
“We did a lot of research into celiac disease,” Lindsey explained. “We then asked people with the disease how they deal with it, and just learned from them. We created Start Fresh, which has since been copyright protected and implemented at other parks. Thanks to the program, we have a lot of healthy options.”
Once a diner notifies a park restaurant employee of food sensitivity or an allergen, the table is sanitized. Seating is taken into consideration, as well, if the guest’s sensitivity dictates a location away from the kitchen. A yellow binder is then presented to the guest that provides a full list of ingredients for each menu item. Start Fresh allows the guest to make an informed dining decision. After the order is placed, a specially trained cook will “start fresh,” using utensils and cookware taken from a sealed plastic container. The food is prepared at a work station that has been sanitized and no other food enters the area to avoid cross-contamination. The same cook who prepared the food delivers it to the table to ensure it meets the guest’s dietary specifications. Only cooks who have received Start Fresh training can prepare food under the program’s guidelines.