The Truth About Eating At Panda Express

The Truth About Eating At Panda Express


There’s a Chinese adage that says, “Food is
the first necessity of the people.” Anyone exhausted after a long day knows it’s
true, and sometimes, some broccoli beef from Panda Express just hits the spot. Here’s everything you should know before the
next time you go. Once upon a time in Kansas, two Baker University
students met and they fell madly in love. Born of this love was some of the yummiest
Chinese food you’ll ever eat, and we all lived happily ever after stuffing our faces with
broccoli beef and orange chicken. It sounds like a fairy tale, but it’s absolutely
true. Panda Express is a true American success story,
as co-CEOs Andrew and Peggy Cherng both came to America as immigrants in the mid-1960s. Even though Andrew got his degree in mathematics
and Peggy got hers in electrical engineering, they ended up in the restaurant business. It all started in 1973, when Andrew and his
father opened the Panda Inn in Pasadena, running it together with the entire family on staff. Fast forward more than four decades, and the
Cherng family has more than 2,000 Panda Express restaurants in North America, as well as locations
in Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Guatemala, and Aruba. And just because Panda Express is a mega-success
doesn’t mean the Cherngs have forgotten their roots. Their daughter Andrea is the company’s chief
marketing officer, and they own and operate every restaurant they don’t franchise them
out to others, save for a few select locations. At Panda Express, it truly is a family business. Panda Express co-founder Peggy Cherng holds
degrees in applied mathematics, computer science, and electrical engineering, so when the restaurants
first opened she was instrumental in implementing a system of portable computers to process
orders in every location. Of course, most restaurants you frequent today
have computerized systems for taking orders and managing data, but Panda Express was one
of the first restaurants to do so. While her husband was busy adding locations
to their growing empire, Peggy Cherng was developing ways to keep track of everything
from how well things were selling to streamlining the ordering process. Around 1983, she introduced the idea of the
point of sale system. She told the Los Angeles Times, “I think we were one of the first to use POS. It was confusing at the beginning, especially
when everyone got nervous and pressed the wrong buttons. But it made everything more efficient.” All that number-crunching gave Panda Express
a huge edge, particularly because it allowed them to figure out pretty precisely just how
much of each ingredient they needed to order, which minimized spoilage while still helping
guarantee a fresh product. It also set a precedent for other restaurants
to follow and today, Peggy Cherng is one of the richest, self-made, foreign-born businesswomen
in America. One of the criticisms you’ll see lobbied against
Panda Express is the question of its authenticity. Is it Chinese food? Is it American food? “Something stereotypical so I can get it quick….” Okay I like your food.” “Outback Steakhouse! I’m Australian, mate!” Technically, it’s both. It was founded by Chinese immigrants who adapted
Chinese food for the American palate, and for a lot of Americans, it’s been their first
introduction to Chinese cuisine. Chief marketing officer Andrea Cherng put
it this way: “In the beginning, everything was already
being translated by master chef Ming-Tsai Cherng. And the way that he cooked always had that
Chinese heritage.” Panda Express’s culinary director Jimmy Wang
told Restaurant Drive, “American Chinese cuisine is very authentic
to Panda Express. Our ever-evolving style of food was born from
adapting traditional Chinese recipes, flavors and cooking techniques to American ingredients
and tastes.” And at the very heart of the matter is something
that’s about as authentic as you can get. It’s an authentic story, and as Andrea Cherng
told Business Insider, Panda Express is “…a story of immigrant Chinese chefs and
families coming to the US, for what they hope will be a better life. It’s a story of taking the recipes and the
repertoire of their own culinary skill set and making it appeal to an [American] national
palate.” “if there’s an opportunity to more, to
gain more, to get more I was up to it.” Any Panda Express fanatic knows how good the
chain’s orange chicken is, and it should be it’s been on the menu since 1987. When it was first introduced by former executive
chef Andy Kao, though, it was served bone-in, rather than the classic boneless dish you
find at any Panda Express today. And you will find a lot of it, because the
chain sells millions of pounds each year. The dish turned 30 years old in 2017, and
that year, they sold a whopping 80 million pounds of the stuff. It’s so popular that more than 50 percent
of Panda Express diners select orange chicken as part of their meal. “There’s nothing tastier than Panda Express
Orange Chicken!” Panda Express orange chicken is everything
delicious in one tasty meal boneless fried chicken tossed in a sauce that’s just a little
bit spicy due to the dried chilis, but sweet thanks to orange peel, honey, and ginger. The orange chicken recipe has remained pretty
consistent over the years, except a tweak that was made by adding bacon that left many
fans pretty upset. They also offered orange chicken and waffles
on their food truck to celebrate the famous dish. That sounds like a meal out of an orange chicken
dream. Panda Express hands out 282 million fortune
cookies every year, and that works out to around a million dollars’ worth every month. But they aren’t always just your standard
fortune cookies. “You’re going to be eaten by a big greasy
monster. Have a nice day.” No, it’s not that either… quite the opposite… For a 2016 campaign, the restaurant renamed
the classic treat Fortunate Cookies and included FortuNotes inside, white slips that expressed
gratitude and kindness, rather than the typical proverb or prophecy. Andrea Cherng told Fox News, “The goal is that [customers] will pause and
stop and acknowledge the people in their lives that they feel most fortunate for. […] The habit of pausing and saying to someone
that you matter that’s the richness, that’s the fortune of life.” Some of the fortunes read, “You will help
someone in need this week,” “Your kind attitude will keep others afloat,” and “You are exactly
where you’re supposed to be.” To the restaurant’s guests, those nice messages
probably made those cookies taste all the sweeter. For the first time in the chain’s history,
Panda Express added vegan items to its menu in 2019. The new plant-based items include spring rolls,
eggplant tofu, chow mein, and Super Greens mixed veggies. Until this menu change, Panda Express flavored
its dishes with chicken broth and other animal product seasonings. According to PETA, this change is thanks to
their supporters. They claimed: “When Panda Express told PETA that its vegetable-based
dishes were still prepared with meat-based flavoring, we urged the company to get with
the times and offer vegan options in its 2,000 stores across the globe. When it continued to give us excuses, we sent
out an alert, and our supporters wrote the company over 234,000 times demanding change.” But one issue that strict vegans may have
with these new dishes is that although they don’t contain meat or animal by-products,
Panda Express notes that they are still prepared in the same kitchen as the meat items, using
the same space and cooking equipment. Some vegetarians discussing the cross-contamination
issue on Reddit have a problem with the idea of their food being cooked in the same pans
that have prepared meat, while others don’t. Nonetheless, the company has been transparent
about the issue, so that diners can make up their own mind based on their dietary preferences
and any allergies they may have. If a restaurant is worried about competition
in the food court at a shopping mall, they could always do what the Cherngs did: start
their own competing restaurant. According to Fortune, Andrew Cherng said, “We started Hibachi-San in malls in 1992 as
a defensive strategy to keep Japanese restaurants from selling against our Chinese food at Panda
Express.” Hibachi-San is a Japanese fast casual restaurant,
and with the growing popularity of both Japanese cuisine and fast casual dining, it just makes
sense. Especially for the Cherngs, who knew that
starting their own Japanese chain would mean that whether a customer was deciding between
Panda Express or Hibachi-San, they’d always win. Think you have an obsession with Panda Express
orange chicken? “I want to go to there.” In 2017, The Killers’ were chowing down on
a meal from Panda Express and found the phrase “Smile Like You Mean It,” in a fortune cookie
which happened to also be the name of a song from their 2004 album Hot Fuzz. How did the band react to this? By jokingly putting Panda Express on blast
by tweeting, “I’m thinkin’ orange chicken for life and
we’ll let you off the hook for using our stuff.” The band’s claim to inventing the phrase seems
a bit iffy considering any third grader posing for school picture day probably heard the
same words uttered by the photographer, but you can’t fault The Killers for wanting to
be swimming in that yummy, sticky orange chicken. The stunt worked out for the best in the end,
with Panda Express ultimately making a financial donation to a charity of the band’s choice. Founder of Panda Express Andrew Cherng told
Los Angeles Magazine that his job is to develop people. “When you have a good set of people, and they’re
in a good place inside and out in their livelihood and in who they are then chances are they
will take care of the customer better”. Employees at Panda Express receive health
care, paid time off, 401(k)s, and company-subsidized continuing education. They also receive discounts to theme parks
and gym memberships, among other perks. The Cherngs even purchased a Robert Indiana
sculpture that sits outside their corporate headquarters and embodies the driving force
behind all they do, in one simple word: “love.” Peggy Cherng told The New York Times, “We are building a culture on trust, and the
aim of trust is love. Love is the verb we emphasize with our Panda
family. We must respect and care for each other. We must push and stretch each other.” It’s that type of corporate statement that
makes it seem like being part of the Panda family makes it a very nice place to work
and, ultimately, a nice place to visit. And that’s the end goal. Peggy Cherng told Los Angeles Magazine, “The restaurant business is the people business,
and people are our investment. If we want to be loved by guests, we have
to focus on food with passion and service with heart, ambience, and pride.” And they do invest in their employees, like
Daniel Pelagio. They hired him when he was just 18, having
recently settled in Santa Ana after moving from Mexico. Pelagio with the Cherng’s help went from speaking
no English to working his way through classes and schooling to become the regional director
for the chain’s northwest-south region. The most profitable Panda Express is located
at the Ala Moana Center food court in Honolulu, Hawaii and it brings in about $4 million a
year, more than any other Panda Express restaurant. That’s a whole lot of orange chicken! But it’s not just shopping malls where you
can find Panda Express they also have locations as stand-alone restaurants, as well as in
airports, at universities, theme parks, casinos, and military bases. With new restaurants opening worldwide, it’s
safe to say that the Cherngs have come a long way since opening their first location. According to Los Angeles Magazine, Andrew
recalled once telling his mother that he had plans to open 99 more restaurants. His mother said she remembered being flabbergasted,
telling him, “You only eat three meals a day. What do you need 100 restaurants for? He was a good child who usually did listen,
but in that instance he didn’t.” Thank goodness he followed his dreams so all
of us can enjoy orange chicken and broccoli beef all over the world. Check out one of our newest videos right here! Plus, even more Mashed videos about your favorite
restaurants are coming soon. Subscribe to our YouTube channel and hit the
bell so you don’t miss a single one.

84 thoughts on “The Truth About Eating At Panda Express

  1. Why don't yall just close ya eyes and eat at home. How far does it get for u to get triggered at a company for looking at one piece of meat bc ur vegan 🤔

  2. All Chinese food taste the same. No matter which province is doing the cooking. I prefer Thai food is healthier and less boring.

  3. If PETA or any other self-righteous group can badger a company to comply with alternative meals then I'd say push vegan restaurants to offer meat options. I'm not upset Taco Bell doesn't sell hamburgers if I'm in the mood for one.

  4. PETA should get with the times. It's a bigoted organization full of animal hating hypocrites.

    Vegans should have to pay triple if they aren't actually allergic to meat for having their food cooked in separate woks.

  5. Panda is nasty! There chicken is breaded and hard with less chicken. Give it a shot but be warned! Sample first before buying.

  6. It just goes to show you Asian people…you can have degrees in mathematics or computer engineering…we just want them egg rolls.

  7. my friend was a manager and making a little over minimum wage, sad. Never go there when they're about to close, food is old and I had a stomach ache. Learn to cook for yourself.

  8. At my local mall Panda Express is located right next to Sarku Japan.. Lines almost out the door at Sarku, and employees standing around at Panda… Bad food

  9. I absolutely hate peta;it’s the fakest organization ever,what about McDonald’s?chick-fill-a and the other fast food chain restaurants? Yeah rightt

  10. How about stop using so many plastic utensils & styrofoam boxes and more environmentally friendly wear. I am sure real pandas will appreciate it.

  11. The quality of the food really varies from store to store and the size of the containers keep getting smaller. I have been buying the P.F. Changs in the supermarket as the prices are cheaper and many times on sale and about the same quality.

  12. My brother worked for the company that makes the orange chicken sauce.
    Its the same as an orange lollipop with out the solidifier to make it more solid. Bon apateet

  13. Vegans are upset? They’d really be pissed if they ever witnessed me cooking an actual Panda in my wok. I can’t wait until vegans start having to eat Soylent Green to survive.

  14. Did you guys really imply that pandas is one of the best Chinese restaurants in the states? 🙄 it’s convenient and fast but there’s at least a dozen better Chinese places where I live

  15. People will eat anything. Play some happy music and put a positive spin on anything and people will eat that up. Panda express is fast food, plain and simple. Show me interviews of ex-employees. Dont quote PR statements from the owners of the company. Obesity is at a rediculous high even from 100 years ago. This food is not healthy and if you know anything about Chinese food you know panda expreas is garbage.

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