Chinese man arrives in US as F1 student, grows $2 billion restaurant empire
In 1966, a young Chinese immigrant from the Jiangsu province in China came to the U.S. on a student visa. His plan was to study mathematics and he enrolled at Baker University in Baldwin, Kansas.
His name – Andrew Cherng.
Years later, in the 1980s, he operated a small, sit-down Chinese restaurant known as the Panda Inn in Los Angeles. A local shopping mall developer approached Cherng about the possibility of opening a fast-food location in the Glendale Galleria, near downtown L.A.
Cherng had never heard of shopping mall food courts, but he took a chance and opened the first Panda Express in 1983.
From those humble beginnings, Panda Express has grown to 17,000 employees in 36 states. The chain generates well over $1 billion in revenue each year. The company achieved 12 consecutive years of same-store-sales growth.
Cherng has resisted the urge to franchise the restaurant and all stores are company-owned. The owner has also refrained from taking the company public, choosing to avoid shareholder-generated headaches.
Panda Express Founder Andrew Cherng
The biggest seller at Panda Express is Orange Chicken. In fact, 4 out of every 10 customers order the popular dish.
Cherng and his wife, Peggy, have three daughters. Their estimated worth is $2 billion. Panda Express is believed to be the largest family-owned fast-food empire in America.
In a recent interview, Cherng was asked about his personal priorities at this point in his career. He replied:
I always focus on growing our business not only for the quality, but to do it very, very well. It’s about relationships, about the details, about the execution.
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