The exterior of a Panda Express location, one of thousands around the world.

In addition to hundreds of U.S. locations, including one on campus at the Titan Student Union, Panda Express currently has locations in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Canada, Guam, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. There are plans to expand further into these markets and open in India and Guatemala later this year.

With close to 1,900 restaurants domestically and globally, the Panda Restaurant Group, parent company of Panda Express, is seeking to expand globally while maintaining its commitment to charitable giving and empowering its associates. Executive Director of Panda Express International Douglas Stalgren and Senior Finance Manager Rachel Bai ’03 (MBA) talked Panda culture and company expansion at Mihaylo College on April 8.

When Andrew Cherng and his father Ming-Tsai founded the first Panda Inn Restaurant in Pasadena, Calif., in 1973, they would have never imagined the global growth of their restaurant brand. Andrew’s wife, Dr. Peggy Cherng, joined the company in 1983 to help systematize operations and overall business strategy. She and Andrew are currently co-chairs and co-CEOS of the company.

“For the first two and a half years, this company was not profitable,” said Rachel Bai ’03 (MBA), senior finance manager for Panda Restaurant Group, the largest Asian restaurant chain in the U.S. “By the end of this year, we’ll have more than 1,900 stores worldwide.”

Bai and Douglas Stalgren, executive director of Panda Express International, which spearheads the company’s global expansion, provided Mihaylo students with an inside look at their corporate culture and plans during an on-campus presentation on April 8.

The Panda Family

The Panda Restaurant Group, which is headquartered in Rosemead, Calif., includes the original Panda Inn concept, serving fine Szechuan and Mandarin Chinese food at their sit-down locations; Panda Express, a fast-casual restaurant chain founded in 1983; and Hibachi-San, a Japanese fast food experience.

Rachel Bai '03, a Mihaylo MBA alumna and senior finance manager for Panda Restaurant Group.

Mihaylo MBA alumna Rachel Bai ’03 believes Panda Restaurants’ corporate culture is the key to its success.

Panda Express, which has the majority of Panda locations, retains a menu with 25 items. Several new items are added each year, while others are rotated off the menu, ensuring a dynamic dining experience for guests.

The first Panda Express locations were in shopping mall food courts with around 900 square feet of space, and newer free-standing locations have as much as 2,500 square feet. The company is on the cutting-edge of kitchen design with an efficient magnetic-based cooking system.

Originally, most locations were in West Coast states, though the brand has expanded across the nation. The first global market was Mexico, which now has 22 Panda Express locations.

Global Expansion

Panda Express currently has locations in seven international markets. The largest global presence is in Mexico, with nearly two dozen locations. There are plans to expand further into these markets and open in India and Guatemala later this year.

Stalgren noted that overseas locations tend to do well near U.S. military installations. “U.S. servicemen and women are loyal guests,” he said.

When expanding into global markets, Panda looks at five factors: The economics of the country, restaurant-specific factors, the state of Chinese food in the country, the availability of partnerships and issues specific to Panda culture and policies.

Perhaps surprisingly, Panda has not expanded into China. While the company does not have immediate plans to expand to the world’s second-largest economy, there have been discussions on the topic. “We’ve talked a lot about if Panda belongs in China, and if so, what it would look like,” Stalgren said.

Douglas Stalgren, Panda Express international executive director, who spoke to Mihaylo College students in April 2016.

Panda Express International Executive Director Douglas Stalgren noted that Panda restaurants are retail, marketing, production and training facilities operating in real-time.

Panda Culture

“The secret recipe for Panda success is one thing – Panda culture,” Bai explained. “Our vision is to be the world leader in people development.” In every Panda location, the words “people first” in Chinese characters are displayed.

Panda encourages its more than 30,000 associates to take leadership and ownership in the operation. Employee development programs, extensive bonuses and travel are some of the opportunities offered to employees.

Charitable giving is an integral part of the Panda culture. In 1999, the company formed Panda Cares, a nonprofit focusing on the healthcare and education of underserved children. The company is also a sponsor of the Special Olympics.

“The meaning of life is to find your gift, but the purpose of your life is to give it away,” Bai said.

For More Information

To learn more about careers with Panda Restaurant Group, visit the Panda Careers website. For more information on Mihaylo’s Center for International Business, which hosted the April 8 event, contact them at 657-278-8264 or visit SGMH 3357A.

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