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Meet the Person Who Transformed Knott’s Berry Farm Into a Food Festival Venue

John Storbeck’s reinvention of the Buena Park theme park as a socially-distanced food festival venue kept thousands of employees working while serving hundreds of thousands of customers.
 

By | bmacdonald@scng.com |PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:
 

Jon Storbeck launched a series of successful outdoor food festivals that brought thousands of Knott’s Berry Farm employees back to work and safely entertained hundreds of thousands of people during the coronavirus pandemic while other California theme parks remained shuttered.

Partially reopening Knott’s has offered fans stuck at home during the pandemic a chance to revisit a reassuring safe haven in a year short on familiar comforts.

“I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me personally in the last few months and just thanked me for opening, giving them a sense of normalcy, something to smile about and something to look forward to,” said Storbeck, the vice president and general manager of Knott’s.

Storbeck, 61, joined Knott’s in 2016 after more than 30 years of working for Disney. The North Tustin resident started at Disneyland after college as a ride operator and rose to the top ranks — serving as vice president of Downtown Disney and Disney’s three Anaheim hotels.

Knott’s and other California theme parks closed in mid-March amid the COVID-19 pandemic and are not expected to fully reopen until early 2021 or next summer. Knott’s partially reopened in July without rides for the Taste of Calico food, beer and wine event that followed COVID-19 health and safety protocols that are now part of the “new normal” — mandatory face coverings, temperature screenings, social distancing and enhanced sanitization

Storbeck and his Knott’s team began developing the Taste of Calico event in late May as the economy began slowly reopening and it became clear the pandemic would be measured in months rather than days or weeks. Then in June, Universal Studios Hollywood, Six Flags Magic Mountain, SeaWorld San Diego and Legoland California set July 1 reopening dates and Disneyland put a pin in the calendar on July 17 — the 65th anniversary of the park.


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