CityWalk, the nightlife entertainment area at Universal Orlando Resort, is in the midst of a partial 2014 makeover that is helping the attraction keep pace with the rush of new Universal guests expected for this summer’s openings of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley at Universal Studios theme park, and the nearby 1,800-room Loews Cabana Bay Beach Resort on the Universal Orlando campus.
Tom Schroeder, the vice president of corporate communications for Universal Orlando Resorts, introduced some of the restaurateurs involved in the entertainment area’s new look at a CityWalk event during the recent media preview of the upcoming opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley.
“CityWalk is the entrance to our resort and this year alone we are adding eight new venues,” said Schroeder. Among the new additions is Antojitos, a newly-opened Mexican restaurant that replaced the previous Latin Quarter. The restaurant, with the friendliest staff we encountered during our days at Universal, turned into a winning margarita-and-taco bar Cinco de Mayo-style fiesta during a brief media visit that we were reluctant to end. Already established at CityWalk is Red Box Pizza, which is located close to the CityWalk movie complex. Another is the Hot Dog Hall of Fame, soon to open on a site that was formerly the Galaxy Bar.
A third new restaurant is Vivo, a lively and upscale Italian restaurant that has already taken over the location of the former Pastamore Restaurant. A popular yogurt bar called Menchies is the place to create your own yogurt dessert, an attraction that replaced a former TCBY yogurt store. Opening soon is a unique dining concept called Cowfish, a “sushi burger bar” that has established its name in North Carolina as the place where diners can order sushi or burgers or a popular combination of both from the “Burgushi” menu. Yet another new concept is the Bread Box, a new take on the old neighborhood sandwich deli that replaces the former Cigarz cigar bar.
Steve Schussler, the culinary creator of Hot Dog Hall of Fame, said his outdoor hot dog stand, featuring baseball stadium style seating, will offer nine different hot dogs, 12 types of mustard and five kinds of buns for “best hot dog experience you have ever had.” Preview guests munched on Coney Island dogs, Chicago dogs, Boston dogs and several others that will soon be seen all over the CityWalk plaza. No opening date, however, was announced for the Hot Dog Hall of Fame.
Guests Want “Authenticity”
Ric Florell, the senior vice president and general manager of resort revenue operations at Universal Orlando Resort, explained the thinking behind the changes at CityWalk. “At CityWalk we needed more focus on what guests wanted,” he said. “The Latin Quarter, for example, was successful but guests were telling us that instead of a Pan-Latin American concept an authentic Mexican Restaurant would be the next step up. Authenticity is very important to our guests.”
Florell noted that Red Box Pizza has already gained popularity for the specially imported Italian tomatoes and flour that have become signature ingredients of the pies on the menu. As for Cowfish, Florell described Universal’s excitement at discovering the hottest new food concept in North Carolina, a restaurant that eliminates the conflict between family members who want a traditional burger menu and those who want more diet-friendly sushi fish items.
“We are taking advantage of new things opening in our parks,” said Florell, noting that he is also responsible for the new Leaky Cauldron Restaurant in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley, with its contemporary take on traditional British pub items including Ploughman’s Lunch, Fisherman’s Pie, Bangers & Mash, Fish ‘n Chips, Sticky Toffee Pudding and English Trifles.
“I’m surprised I don’t weigh 800 pounds,” said Florell with a laugh. “We are dedicated to all-natural ingredients and new food concepts are showing up in my office every day.”
Universal management promised that many of those new and “authentic” food concepts will be appearing at Universal CityWalk as the Universal Orlando Resort continues to grow in the months and years ahead.