Panda Express is the largest Chinese fast food chain in the United States. This Chinese restaurant caters to non-Chinese patrons and is now appearing all over the United States. With annual revenues of more than US$2 billion and a new store every three days, Panda Express can be found not only in the United States, but also in Mexico, Canada, Dubai, Japan, and South Korea, totaling more than 2,000 stores.
Cheng Zhengchang, the founder of Panda Fast Food, was born in Yangzhou, China, in 1948 and has a masters degree in mathematics. When he was 5 years old, he went to Taiwan with his family. His father, Cheng Mingcai, was a well-known chef who had also served as Chiang Kai-shek’s personal chef.
At the age of 15, Cheng Zhengchang received a scholarship from the University of Baker, and in 1966, he came to the United States on his own. After graduation, he could not find a job. Finally, his cousin invited him to work in a restaurant.
A year later, he opened his own restaurant called “Treasure Garden.” In the first month, the business was so poor that there were only a few customers, even on the weekend.
Cheng thought about it: “In order to capture the Americans’ stomachs, I must first capture their hearts.”
So, he not only provided delicious food, but also added some human touches. When the restaurant was too crowded and there were no seats available, he would run after guests to the parking lot to apologize. Cheng has such a fantastic memory that he can recognize guests from 30 years ago. Soon, he had a large number of repeat customers.
In 1983, Cheng opened a Chinese fast food restaurant. At that time, the Chinese government had just given two giant pandas to the U.S., and so the “Panda Express” was born. Cheng focusses on making Chinese food. And to make fast food successful in the United States, he must focus on American tastes and preferences.
First of all, he insisted on making traditional Chinese food: “To fully retain the traditional characteristics of Chinese cuisine, Americans would appreciate traditional Chinese cooking.”
Under the premise of adhering to Chinese characteristics and cooking on the spot, he fine-tuned his cooking to fit the American diet. After careful research, dishes such as mushroom fried chicken, spicy peanut chicken, and sweet and sour pork ribs suddenly occupied the American fast food industry. One dish, in particular — orange chicken — became so popular that it actually accounted for 30 percent of revenue.
When Americans began to emphasize healthy eating, he immediately launched a low-carb package, always maintaining a keen market sense.
In order to step into the international market, Panda Express needed a management system. Cheng’s wife, Jiang Peiqi, plays a very important role in dealing with this. Jiang Peiqi personally designed a powerful system and brought 180 degrees of technical improvement to the restaurant chain. With this system, an intern can take care of the store alone after two months.
Now, there are 2,000 stores, but Cheng thinks very clearly. “I don’t want to open a store in China. We are doing it for the non-Chinese customers.”
To turn an unattended small restaurant into the world’s largest Chinese fast food chain has taken Cheng more than 30 years. He believes that his success comes from two things.
He said: ” First, I am a person who is constantly stepping up. When others are sleeping, I am still going. Secondly, every detail is done well, with constant reflection and refinement. Don’t be overly demanding in everything, just be mindful, so that one can grow. Don’t be afraid of hardships in the world; be afraid of lacking a serious spirit.”
Translated by Yi Ming