Fresh and Healthy Asian-inspired Food with Quick Service – Panda Express


In our role as a trusted solutions provider for restaurant oil and grease compliance, Thermaco is honored to work with a number of highly successful restaurant brands – some founded upon interesting and inspirational methods of business.

With this post we share one such story…

David Wang and Peggy Cherng

One of the fastest growing quick-serve restaurants in America, Panda Restaurant Group was founded in 1973 in Pasadena, California, when Andrew Cherng opened the first Panda Inn, with his father Master Chef Ming-Tsai Cherng. Today, the privately held company has grown to 1,582 restaurants in 42 states, Puerto Rico and Mexico, with revenue topping $1.7 billion – truly a world leader in the Asian dining experience.

David Wang, Executive Director, Construction, has been with Panda for 17 years. “I started with Panda in Los Angeles,” says Wang, “when the company had less than 200 outlets, mostly in California and a few in Hawaii – located primarily inside food courts at malls.” Beginning in 1997, Panda began incorporating a new concept for the restaurant: to establish street side locations in shopping centers, selecting end cap locations. The goal was to bring in new customers and to grow as much as possible. Though these sites cost more to rent, they offered much more room to provide a better experience for the customer.
Panda set out to provide a winning combination of great service, comfortable ambiance and delicious food. For the USA Quick Service Restaurant business, the Panda formula was quite unique. “We introduced a lot of fresh vegetables,” according to Wang, “open kitchen, fresh cut.” The restaurant's customers could easily see the fresh vegetables being prepared in small batches and mixed with a protein source. “Panda is about fresh and natural food in a quick serve,” Wang points out. The Panda Restaurant Group's owners Andrew and Peggy Cherng emphasized “Freshness is our concept,” a crucial element of “the Panda Way.”
Over the years, the Panda Way has evolved to include several other components that serve as a guide for members of the Panda team. Core principals include:
1. Healthy Lifestyle. In order to perform well, you need to have a healthy lifestyle with adequate exercise. Perhaps you begin by exercising once or twice a week, then increase to three or four times a week, eventually exercising every day
2. Continuous Learning. In the Panda Way, learning is not optional. Continuous learning is considered a prerequisite for all Panda team members. Inspired by The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Dr. Stephen R. Covey, and other personal development concepts, Panda founder Andrew Cherng encourages all Panda associates to practice continuous learning.
3. Develop Others. The Panda Way is also about helping others to have a better life. Employees are encouraged to reach out to their team members and help them achieve their goals.
4. Acknowledge Others. The Panda Way focuses upon positive enforcement for team members. For example, when Andrew Cherng conducts a restaurant visit, he isn't just checking on sales numbers; he also asks the manager and staff members, “What are you doing to better yourself?” One employee may answer, “I started taking English as a second language classes”; another may say, “I started an exercise class.”
Says Wang, “This positive enforcement really impressed me when I started with Andrew – he inspired me with this. I remember in 2005, after a store visit in Houston, Andrew invited me to go hiking with him at 6 AM. I said, 'Sure, why not?' Andrew works out too – every day. So, from then on, I started my exercise habit. Before, it was just weekends; now, it's every day. I get up around 5:30 AM and work out before going to the office.”
Such a healthful lifestyle makes sense for a top employee at Panda.
“Actually we are creating our Panda environment at our restaurants across the U.S.,” says Wang. “We consider it is everyone’s job at Panda to create a safe and empowering conversational environment – to listen, appreciate and challenge each other in bringing our 2020 vision alive and in action.”
Its goal is for Panda Restaurant Group to be recognized as a world leader in people development, and to become loved by its customers by the year 2020.
Panda Express
His goal: for store managers to feel the passion and then pass it on to each associate.This means providing a platform at Panda for employees and managers to feel free to bring things up, to create that kind of debate. To see that this type of atmosphere exists within each of the 1,500-plus stores, Andrew makes an effort to visit each location once a year. He also travels to regional areas to host breakfast learning sessions for managers. In this role, he serves as Panda’s CIO – Chief Inspiration Officer– to inspire everyone about the company's 2020 vision – face to face.
Twice a year, Panda hosts a leadership conference, where all the managers share their experience and ideas, which engenders team spirit. Afterwards, they carry that spirit back to their individual teams. “At our support center we have a Saturday learning session every 6 weeks,” says Wang. “We create a breakfast at 8:30 a.m., beginning with 15-20 minutes of exercise. Everyone is invited, from the dishwashers to managers to vice presidents. All of us – maybe 400 people – sit on the carpet. We take turns talking about topics, such as The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. We have been holding the sessions for seven years now. It is so powerful and inspiring.”
When it comes to learning at Panda, everyone is treated equally. “We even bring in (Spanish language) translators for some of the training sessions,” according to Wang. “We want to inspire every member of the team to see the benefits [of learning],”says Wang. “That’s why we say, ‘I will use my best effort of influence to help others build the best Team Panda.’”
Wang is very pleased with the results. “It’s amazing,” he says. “You can see it at the different levels, as our area managers learn at the conference, and take their inspiration back home – planting the seeds.”
This vision is not just for immediate Panda team members. “We try to influence them all – the vendors, suppliers and partners -- to do great things for the whole world.” That means more than 24,000 associates, all with family members, sharing a passion for thinking about the needs of others – like an army for good.
“That’s a great effect,” says Wang, “a powerful way to influence the world!”
In 2012 Panda Group opened 111 new restaurants. “It was a fantastic year,” said Wang.

Owen George 
Owen George is a contributing author for Thermaco, Inc. and the founder of Owen George Global Strategies, Inc.  

To learn more about Panda Express, please visit