Q & A with Anna Otero-Knox – Pandora – The World of Avatar en Disney’s Animal Kingdom (Puertorriqueña/Cubana)
In celebration of Women’s History Month, Hispanic Lifestyle is pleased to share stories of Latinas making their mark In The Marketplace. Spotlight, Anna Otero-Knox – Pandora – The World of Avatar en Disney’s Animal Kingdom
What is your hometown?
Master’s Degree in Business from Saint Leo University
Professional and Personal Certifications/Awards:
Court of Master Sommeliers – Introductory Sommelier Diploma Level One
How many years in the foodservice industry?
How and when did you become interested in the foodservice industry?
I joined Walt Disney World as a quick-service Food & Beverage hostess and loved the pace.
What do you enjoy most about running a restaurant?
Running a restaurant is organized chaos! It is ever-changing with the flow of guests and their individual needs. The cast members always keeps you on your toes and knowing at the end of the day that you impacted the guest experience positively is very rewarding.
Why do you continue to stay in the foodservice industry?
I’m a person who enjoys change and being adaptable. The foodservice industry is the definition of it. In order to keep the guest excited about their next visit you have to be willing to deliver on as much as possible and sometimes what seems like the impossible.
What are you known for professionally?
I believe my coworkers would say that I am cast-focused leader who believes in ensuring the cast are taken care of so that we can always deliver on a memorable dining experience. I love to be a part of openings.
Year started with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts?
Why did you choose to work for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts?
I knew it was a reputable company and it was the perfect summer job!
Current role with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts? Describe your responsibilities:
I am the proprietor for Food & Beverage in Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park. I oversee the day-to-day operations of Satu’li Canteen, Pongu Pongu, and the Pandora ice cream cart. I work with my partners to ensure we are meeting our safety, sanitation, and financial targets while continuously driving new business opportunities.
How did you arrive at your current position? What was your path?
My first role in leadership was as a guest experience manager in water parks. I then transitioned to resorts on a permanent statused role at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. I came to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park the year it opened and transitioned to Disney’s Hollywood Studios about four years later. I worked there for about six months before I got promoted to area manager for the opening team of Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa. I later transitioned to Disney’s Contemporary Resort where I opened Contempo Café. I moved to Disney’s Pop Century Resort for three years and then made my second tour at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park. I opened the Disney’s Animal Kingdom Starbucks and most recently joined the Pandora opening team!
Are Disney restaurants different? If so, why?
I believe Disney restaurants are different because we truly do more than what is ever expected. We make dreams come true with “Make a Wish” families, we surprise and delight our guests with their milestones, and we create memories that will last a lifetime. (Engagements, family reunions, anniversaries.)
Who is your biggest inspiration and why?
I grew up as a very shy child and my sister Judy Salmon always pushed me to break out of my shell (sometimes against my will). Had it not been for her, I don’t think I would have had the courage to go for my goals as a leader and to push the boundary when it comes to my comfort level. She also has lived her entire life with a physical disability and she never let it slow her down nor did she ever let anyone tell her “she couldn’t” do something, conversely, she took it as challenge. This always resonated with me whenever I doubted myself. She continues to inspire me every day as a teacher, mother, and devoted woman of God. She has an infectious joy for life and the biggest heart you could imagine.
Who helped you get in to the industry?
Each of my Walt Disney World Resort experiences occurred because someone believed in me, so I would say Katie Moore, Liz Hurckes, Stanley Davenport, Sonya Deese-Byrnes, Mim Flynn, Maryann Smith, Joe Kalla, Keith Gossett, and Ann Williams!
What are you most passionate about professionally?
I believe as leaders we have a responsibility to teach. Whether it’s teaching a new generation the business or reminding experienced generations why we love it and stay in it. We always have room to grow and need to open to learning new things and changing with the times.
What is one problem you are best at solving in the workplace?
Cast morale is one of the areas where I feel I can deliver the biggest change. I come in to help make things better and make the cast feel valued and appreciated. It’s the best way to change the guest experience.
What three words would your co-workers use to describe you?
Passionate, caring, driven
What makes the “perfect” wine list? Perfect cocktail list?
The perfect wine list has a great Moscato D’Asti and a great South African chardonnay.
Two of my favorites include Paul Cluver Seven Flags and Stella Rosa Moscato D’Asti.
Favorite drink and why?
Rum Runner. I’m part Puerto Rican and part Cuban. Rum is everything!
Favorite kitchen gadget?
My pressure cooker. Always looking to gain back time!
Favorite junk/snack food?
White cheddar popcorn and peanut M&M’s
You run a restaurant, but what do you cook for your family?
I typically don’t have a lot of time to cook so I am always looking for easy prep, quick meals. If not, I’m not afraid to order/eat out!
What food or beverage holds childhood memories for you?
Since I was about eight years old I began brewing espresso for my dad. Every time I smell fresh brewed coffee, I experience a bit of nostalgia.
When you’re not working, what do you enjoy?
I love to dance to Latin music, gardening in my yard, and reading.
If you weren’t in the foodservice industry, what would you be and why?
I think I would have joined entertainment here at Disney and danced until my heart was content!
Any secret culinary indulgences?
I love crème brûlée.
Coffee and southern sweet tea with lemon, thanks to my hubby!
What’s always in the fridge at home?
Are there any volunteer activities you’re involved with?
I do mud runs or obstacle races to benefit different charities.
What would be impossible for you to give up?
Coffee and dancing!
People would be surprised to know …
I know how to drive a motorcycle.
What advice would you give young women wanting to get into the food and beverage industry?
I would advise them to first become self-aware. Find out what makes them happy before you set out to do a job that requires you to make others happy. Being in the foodservice industry is exactly that. You have to find joy in the service of others. You will get pulled in every direction in this role (both physically and emotionally) so you have to be set with your own foundation before you can effectively help others and find joy in doing so. The job has its pros and cons and at the end of the day it’s most important to love what you do so it doesn’t feel like “work.”