We can probably safely assume that throughout the course of your life, you haven’t given Panda Express much in the way of thought. You’ve probably seen it at the mall food court, maybe occasionally sampled some of its orange chicken, but it probably hasn’t made a noticeable impact on your life. Yes, it’s just a chain that sells Chinese-American fast food, but it’s also a lot more interesting than you realize.
Panda Express can trace its roots to 1973, when a master chef named Ming-Tsai Cherng moved to California from China and opened a restaurant called Panda Inn in Pasadena with his son, Andrew (who had come over several years earlier to attend college). In 1982 Andrew’s wife Peggy (who he met in college) joined the business, and the couple decided to open a casual offshoot of Panda Inn called Panda Express. The first location opened in the Glendale Galleria Mall’s food court in 1983, the second location opened in LA’s Westside Pavilion in 1985, and the rest is history.
Today, Panda Express has nearly 2,000 locations around the world, and it still serves the dishes that put it on the map, like Orange Chicken, Firecracker Chicken, and Kung Pao Chicken. It’s no straggler when it comes to keeping up with current trends, however; its Wok Smart menu contains less than 300 calories, stores are constantly being updated and modernized, and it’s taking strides to reduce its carbon footprint. It’s also no stranger to borderline-gimmicky initiatives: It launched a food truck in 2015, and last year it began offering customers a fork-chopstick hybrid called a chork. Click here to learn 13 more fascinating facts about Panda Express.