11 Things You Might Not Know About Panda Express

Panda Express is the biggest Chinese fast food restaurant chain in the United States. Famous for its orange chicken and chow mein, it has over 1800 locations and 27,000 employees around the world.

1. IT ALL STARTED WITH A SIT-DOWN RESTAURANT CALLED PANDA INN.

In 1973, Chinese immigrant Andrew Cherng and his father Ming-Tsai Cherng used a loan from the Small Business Administration to open a Chinese restaurant in Pasadena, California. Called Panda Inn, the restaurant was so popular that it expanded to four more locations in southern California. The first Panda Express, a fast-food version of Panda Inn, opened in 1983 at the Glendale Galleria in Glendale, California.

2. PANDA EXPRESS IS STILL FAMILY OWNED AND OPERATED.

Husband and wife co-founders Andrew and Peggy Cherng still own and run their privately-held company, The Panda Restaurant Group. No franchising is allowed, and the company owns and operates all the Panda Express stores (except for the stores inside universities, which are usually licensed to the university).

3. THE FOUNDERS WERE COLLEGE SWEETHEARTS.

Andrew and Peggy met at Baker University in Kansas, and they later got advanced degrees (Andrew in Applied Mathematics and Peggy in Electrical Engineering) at the University of Missouri in the 1970s. They got married in 1975, almost a decade before the first Panda Express location opened for business.

4. THEY SELL NEARLY 70 MILLION POUNDS OF ORANGE CHICKEN EACH YEAR.

Last year, customers bought 67.9 million pounds of orange chicken from Panda Express, making the sweet and tangy chicken dish the most popular item on the menu by far. First created in 1987, the orange chicken recipe is a closely guarded secret. What we do know is that each batch starts with frozen, breaded, boneless chicken nuggets that are deep fried before being dipped in the orange sauce.

5. PANDA EXPRESS WAS AN EARLY ADOPTER OF RESTAURANT-BASED TECHNOLOGY.

Peggy’s background in engineering and software design gave Panda Express a technological advantage. In the 1980s, the company was an early adopter of using computers to make ordering in stores easier and to collect data about the highest selling items at each store.

6. THE MENU IS CONSTANTLY BEING TESTED AND TWEAKED.

Andrew and Peggy’s daughter Andrea, Panda’s Chief Marketing Officer, helps oversee Panda’s Innovation Kitchen in Pasadena, California. The purpose of the kitchen is to experiment with new dishes, design, and décor. Open to the public, the Innovation Kitchen offers intriguing menu items like a honey walnut shrimp wrap with papaya slaw, orange chicken salad, and scallion pancake wraps.

7. SELF-DEVELOPMENT IS OF PARAMOUNT IMPORTANCE.

Andrew and Peggy take an unusual approach to managing their employees. Panda Restaurant Group’s headquarters has motivational posters on the walls and Stephen Covey books on the desks, and the company gives its workers discounts on self-help and leadership books. Strongly encouraging everyone to enroll in “human potential seminars” like Dale Carnegie, Life Academy, and Landmark Education, Andrew hosts programs for his employees to do Zumba, hear motivational speeches, and learn self-defense skills. He also created a mandatory program for employees, The Panda Way, requiring a healthy lifestyle, continuous learning, and interpersonal relationship skills.

8. PANDA EXPRESS HAS A LESSER-KNOWN JAPANESE SIBLING.

The Panda Restaurant Group also owns and operates Hibachi-San, a Japanese fast food chain that serves teppanyaki and sushi at locations across the United States. According to Andrew and Peggy, they decided to start opening Hibachi-San in malls in 1992 as a defensive strategy to protect Panda Express from competition from Japanese fast food restaurants. Instead of trying to beat the competition, become the competition!

9. THE MENU IS GETTING HEALTHIER.

For fast food, Panda Express is surprisingly health-conscious. The menu offerings have no MSG added (either at Panda Express locations or by ingredient suppliers). Plus, the Panda Tea Bar is a new feature that’s cropping up at some Panda Express locations, allowing customers to order customizable teas and juices, with optional wholesome add-ins like aloe vera and chia seeds.

10. A FOOD COURT IN HAWAII IS THE MOST LUCRATIVE PANDA EXPRESS LOCATION.

The Panda Express at the Ala Moana Center food court in Honolulu, Hawaii is the company’s most successful location with more than $4 million in yearly revenue. That's a lot of fried rice!

11. PANDA HAS GIVEN ALMOST $50 MILLION TO CHARITY.

Started in 1999, Panda Cares is Panda Restaurant Group’s official philanthropic organization. By participating in food donation programs, asking customers for monetary donations in Panda Express stores, and giving employees the option to donate a portion of their paychecks (90 percent of employees opt in), Panda Cares has raised $48.5 million for children’s hospitals and disaster relief.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
The Popcorn Company That's Creating Jobs for Adults With Autism
iStock
iStock

A New Jersey-based gourmet popcorn company is dedicating its profits to creating new employment “popportunities” for adults on the autism spectrum, A Plus reports.

Popcorn for the People, founded by Rutgers University professor Dr. Barbie Zimmerman-Bier and her husband, radiologist Dr. Steven Bier, is a nonprofit subsidiary of the couple's charitable organization Let’s Work For Good, which focuses on "creating meaningful and lasting employment for adults with autism and developmental disabilities." Recognizing the lack of skilled employment options for adults with developmental disabilities, the Biers decided to create jobs themselves through this popcorn venture, with all of the profits going to their charitable organization. According to the site, every tin of popcorn purchased "provides at least an hour of meaningful employment" to adults with autism and other developmental disabilities, who perform jobs like making popcorn, labeling products, and marketing.

The couple developed the idea for the business and the nonprofit in 2015 when their son, Sam, grew tired of his job at a grocery store. Sam, 27, is on the autism spectrum, and after six years of working as a “cart guy,” he decided he was ready to try something new. Employment opportunities were scarce, though. Jobs that provided enough resources for someone on the spectrum tended to consist of menial work, and more skilled positions involved a tough interview process.

“Some companies mean well, but they are limited in what they can offer,” Steven Bier told TAP Into East Brunswick in 2015.

Unemployment rates are especially high among adults with autism. Last year, Drexel University reported that only 14 percent of autistic adults who use state-funded disability services are employed in paid work positions. And while high-functioning autistic adults are often perfectly capable of working in technical careers, the actual process of getting hired can be challenging. People with autism tend to struggle with understanding nuance and social conventions, which makes the interviewing process particularly difficult.

Enter the Biers' popcorn business. What began in 2015 as the Pop-In Cafe (which still sells popcorn and deli items at its New Jersey location) now distributes flavored popcorn all over the world. In three years, the organization has gone from a staff of four, with one employee on the autism spectrum, to a staff of 50, nearly half of whom are on the spectrum. In July, the organization plans to expand to a larger production facility in order to keep up with demand.

The company provides an environment for employees to learn both hard skills, like food preparation and money management, and what the company describes as “watercooler life skills.”

"There just aren't many programs that teach these sorts of things in a real-world environment, with all that entails," Bier told My Central Jersey. "These are skills that the kids can use here, and elsewhere."

According to A Plus, you can now buy Popcorn for the People in person at locations like the Red Bull Arena in New Jersey and the Lyric Theatre in Times Square. The organization sells 12 flavors of popcorn (including cookies and cream, Buffalo wing, and French toast), all created by Agnes Cushing-Ruby, a chef who donates 40 hours a week to the company.

“I never thought that the little pop-up shop would grow into this,” Sam told A Plus. “It makes me so happy to see we have helped so many people.”

[h/t A Plus]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
IHOb Restaurants
10 Strange Publicity Stunts by Major Food Brands
IHOb Restaurants
IHOb Restaurants

Celebrities have always loved doing crazy things for press—but these days, even corporations will go to extreme lengths to get the word out about their products. Case in point: IHOP's recent attempt to create a little mystery, and sell some burgers, as IHOb. Below you’ll find 10 of the weirdest stunts done to promote mass-produced food items.

1. COLONEL SANDERS RAPPELS DOWN A HIGH-RISE

It’s hard to imagine KFC’s elderly Colonel Sanders doing much outside of eating and talking about his “finger lickin’ good” fried chicken. But in 2011, a man dressed as the Colonel strapped on a harness and rappelled down Chicago’s River Bend building. The Colonel didn't stop at rappelling down the 40-story building; he also handed out $5 everyday meals to window washers. What was KFC’s concept behind this dangerous promotion? They wanted to show the world they were taking lunch to “new heights.”

2. THE WORLD'S LARGEST POPSICLE

Sometimes being the biggest doesn’t mean you’re the best. In 2005, Snapple wanted to make the world’s largest Popsicle to promote their new line of frozen treats. Their plan was to display a 25-foot-tall, 17.5-ton treat of frozen Snapple juice in New York City’s Union Square. However, their plan ended in a sticky disaster. The day Snapple tried to present the Popsicle, New York was experiencing warmer than expected temperatures. The pop melted so quickly that a river of sticky sludge took over several streets. In a city already congested by traffic and tourists, this made Snapple enemy No. 1 that day to the people of New York City.

3. COFFEE CUPS ON CAR ROOFS = FREE COUPONS

A cup of Starbucks coffee
Wikimedia Commons

Starbucks believes in rewarding those who embrace the holiday spirit. In 2005, the Seattle-based coffee giant developed a campaign by which brand ambassadors drove around with replicas of Vente Starbucks cups affixed to their car roofs. If anyone stopped the ambassador to warn them about the coffee cup on their roof, that person received a $5 gift card to Starbucks. Starbucks wanted the world to know being a good samaritan really can pay!

4. MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE

Imagine walking the beach and finding a sealed bottle of Guinness. But instead of finding beer inside, you find a note from King Neptune, the Roman god of the sea. In 1959, that happened to people along North America’s Atlantic coast. Guinness wanted to build brand awareness in the area, so they dropped 150,000 sealed Guinness bottles into the ocean. The bottle contained Neptune’s scroll announcing the House of Guinness’s Bi-Centenary as well as a document instructing the reader on how to make a Guinness bottle into a table lamp. While no one got a free beer (boo!), they did walk away with an arts and crafts project.

5. EAU DE FLAME-BROILED

Who can resist the smell of flame-broiled burgers? The answer is most people—at least when it comes in the form of a body spray. Burger King’s 2008 campaign promoting the “scent of seduction” may be one of the weirdest ideas on this list. The fast-food company thought they could capture the world’s attention by creating and advertising a meat-scented cologne called FLAME by BK. Though select New York City stores actually sold the scent, all of this was a tongue-in-cheek campaign to make the 18- to 35-year-old male demographic laugh.

6. HERE COMES THE SUN

London commuters experienced an unexpectedly bright morning during January 2012. Tropicana worked with the art collective Greyworld to create a fake sun promoting their “Brighter Morning” campaign. The "sun," made up of more than 60,000 light bulbs, rose over Trafalgar Square at 6:51 a.m. on a particularly chilly morning. The sun set at 7:33 p.m. Tropicana continued to promote their sun day, fun day by having Londoners sit under the sun with branded sunglasses, deck chairs, and blankets. 

7. AIRPORT STEAK DELIVERY

Some of the craziest publicity stunts can’t be planned. We live in a world of 24/7 social media, and when the Twitterverse gave Morton’s Steakhouse an opportunity, they seized upon it. Before flying from Tampa to Newark, Peter Shankman, an entrepreneur and author, jokingly tweeted at Morton's Steakhouse that he wanted a porterhouse steak to be waiting for him when he landed. As Shankman was a frequent diner and social media influencer, Morton's Steakhouse saw the opportunity to start a conversation—and they went for it: When Shankman touched down in Newark, he was greeted by his car service driver and a Morton’s deliveryman. If only all travelers could experience that happiness in an airport.

8. BUYING THE LIBERTY BELL

April Fools Day gags can be great for brands … or an embarrassment. In 1996, Taco Bell took out an ad in The New York Times saying they bought Philadelphia's Liberty Bell. The ad also informed people of the bell’s new name: "Taco Liberty Bell." Back in the mid-1990s, people couldn’t go on Twitter or Facebook to find out the truth. Instead, they wrote the publication voicing their outrage. The hoax may have worked in getting press coverage (650 print publications and 400 broadcast media outlets publicized the joke), but what does that say about your brand when people actually believe you would rename a historic monument for your own gain?

9. CREATING THE LARGEST MAN-MADE FIRE


Wikimedia Commons

In 2011, the Costa-Mesa based chain El Pollo Loco sent out press releases saying they planned to create the world’s largest man-made fire. Why would they create a fire? El Pollo Loco needed to get the word out about their new flame-grilled chicken. Spectators attending the event were shocked to see that this stunt was actually a commercial shoot for the brand. The chain says they really did attempt to break the record. But many publications have stated the whole promotion was a fraud. Note to brands: When trying to pull off a publicity stunt and a commercial simultaneously, tell everyone your plan in advance.

10. KFC IN SPACE

KFC may just be the king of wild publicity stunts. In 2006, the company created an 87,500-square-foot logo at Area 51 in Rachel, Nevada. The company wanted to be the first brand visible from space. And it was no coincidence they picked a spot near “The World’s Only Extraterrestrial Highway.”

“If there are extraterrestrials in outer space, KFC wants to become their restaurant of choice,” said Gregg Dedrick, former president of KFC Corp. The world is not enough for KFC. They need the entire universe hooked on their Original Recipe.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios