Making Panda Express A Success

Linda Dela Cruz
Wednesday - January 24, 2007
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Panda Express founder Andrew Cherng
Panda Express founder Andrew Cherng

Panda Express founder Andrew Cherng has planned a four-part celebration for the 20th anniversary of his first Panda Express restaurant in Hawaii, which opened Jan. 23, 1987 at Ala Moana Center.

To celebrate, he honors both his customers and his employees.

“We’re very lucky,” Cherng says of his 12 restaurants in Hawaii and his 900 venues in 36 states, Puerto Rico and Japan. “Hawaii is one of the most successful areas for us. Thank you. Keep coming.”

One of the four celebratory events planned is at 10 a.m. Jan. 23. Cherng and chief executive officer Tom Davlin thank customers in a short ceremony at the Moanalua Shopping Center on Valkenburg Street. Local community leaders will celebrate as the first 88 customers receive a free two-entree lunch with a drink.

A second event honors the 42 employees who have worked five to 20 years with the company, including area coach of operations John Zhang. Zhang is one of seven people who have been with the eatery for 20 years.

The third party in the celebration is where the company’s community organization, Panda Cares, cleans and paints the Boys and Girls Club Spalding Clubhouse, and donates a portion of the anniversary celebration’s proceeds. The fourth party honors business partners.

The success of the company has just as much to do with its popular orange chicken as it does with one of Cherng’s early lessons in business: Do not repeat mistakes.

Cherng, who has a master’s degree in applied mathematics from the University of Missouri, often implements his theory of how to please customers.

“My attitude toward customers is always, ‘What more can I do for you?’ As long as I keep doing that, I believe they will come back.”

In fact, Cherng says he spends 30 to 60 minutes every day reviewing what could be done better.

He visits all the regions where the stores are located. He talks with the employees about life.

“I hope they have a clear purpose about why they do it,” says Cherng. “This is not about only business; this is about collectively how do we learn to live a better life. It’s a tool to help all of us to learn about a better life.

“I believe a good life is about learning to be a better human being. One of our objectives is to find out how many people can grow with us, and grow faster with us. How do we measure a good life, by owning house or finishing college? It’s not about doing this or that; we want you to be in charge of your own life, and to be in the position to help yourself. We want to make our system so easy for people to be successful.”

The business began in 1973 when he and his father, Ming Tsai Cherng, opened Panda Inn in Pasadena, Calif. Expansion started with a second Chinese restaurant in Chinatown with a friend. In 1983, Cherng began offering Chinese food for people on the go with Panda Express. Under his Panda Restaurant Group, disposable chopsticks now can be found at five Panda Inn locations in California, 27 Hibachi-San restaurants in seven states, and 900 Panda Express locations in 36 states, Japan and Puerto Rico.

Panda Express stores in Hawaii are located at Ala Moana Center Makai Market, Waipahu Don Quijote, Hawaii Kai Towne Center, Kahala Mall, Kaneohe Bay Shopping Center, Kapolei Shopping Center, Moanalua Shopping Center, Pearlridge Center, Windward Mall, Kauai Village on Kauai, and two Maui locations at Azeka Shopping Center and Kaahumanu Center.

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