Behind the Disney Food Blog: How One Woman Made a Career Out of Eating at Walt Disney World
If you’ve ever done the slightest bit of research on where to dine while planning a Walt Disney World vacation, chances are you’ve ended up on the Disney Food Blog.
The site, started by Texas resident AJ Wolfe in 2009, boasts the most comprehensive inventory of unbiased reviews of the ever-expanding food options at Disney parks, and attracts millions of monthly readers, YouTube viewers, and followers across social media platforms.
But before purple churros were going viral and Dole Whip came in doughnut form, food at Disney parks was mostly an afterthought. “Basically the only sites out there were the big, broad one that were covering everything in Disney, and no one was covering food in depth,” Wolfe tells PEOPLE. “There was almost a stigma attached to talking about food because people thought it was weird to care so much about Disney restaurants. I remember thinking, ‘Will people read this? Is that going to be weird? Who would ever go read a site about Disney food?’”
Like many Disney bloggers that popped up around that time period, though, Wolfe quickly found that there was an appetite—quite literally, in her case—among adults with a nostalgia for all things Disney. “[The parks] have some iconic foods that people are addicted to, and that’s a big part of their vacation: They’re going to get Dole Whip, they’re going to get Mickey bars, they’re going to get turkey legs,” she says. “Quickly we started to see Disney catch on and realize that food was a part of the destination.”
Now Wolfe not only reports on and reviews the food at the parks, but is able to drive culinary innovation and influence dining trends at Disney World.
“We will take a specific food item and make it go viral. That’s what we did with the Butterfinger cupcake way back in 2010,” Wolfe says, referring to the now-iconic chocolate peanut butter crunch cupcake at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (which, she notes, has recently gone missing.) “We said, ‘look at this insane cupcake,’ and that was really the start of the cupcake craze at Disney World.”
Ten years in, Wolfe has turned eating at Disney into a career, sustaining the site through sales of her Disney Food Blog dining guides and advertising. Though she is still based out of Dallas with her husband and 5-year-old child, she makes it to Orlando once a month and has a staff on both coasts to cover Disneyland in Anaheim, California in addition to Walt Disney World.
In an effort to keep her reviews unbiased and get the same food experience as any regular guest, Wolfe has never marketed herself as the face of the brand, instead maintaining her anonymity. “I keep a pretty low profile,” she says. “I keep pictures of me off the internet as much as I can, and I try to make sure that as many people at Disney don’t know who I am.”
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And in an age where freebies are a currency, particularly on Instagram, Wolfe insists on paying for everything herself. “I’ve had managers try to pay for my food, and I’ll go up to them and say ‘I’m sorry, but this is something that we have to pay for in order to remain unbiased for our readers,'” she says. “And frankly it’s better for them as well because if I have to write a review that says you paid for it and it’s a good review, nobody’s going to trust that.”
Though most of her visits to Disney World are for business rather than pleasure—she travels alone and schedules 4-5 meals per day, often working from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m.—Wolfe says it still hasn’t lost that magic. “I started the blog because I love the parks. They just carry a real enchantment for me,” she says. “If I haven’t been in a month and a half, I really start to crave it. I always like to build in time for myself to hang out in the parks and ride some rides. That’s part of the benefit of doing this as a job.”