At a Glance
Average project duration
More than 1,500
In an industry dominated by burgers and fries, coffee-based drinks, and cheese-topped anything, Panda Restaurant Group, Inc.’s Panda Express chain remains virtually one-of-a-kind in it its ability to deliver Mandarin and Szechuan cuisine in a fast, casual manner. Since opening its first Panda Inn in 1973 and its first Panda Express 10 years later, the company has put up more than 1,500 stores in 42 states and Mexico, and its bright red awnings and indelible panda logo have become a familiar sight in shopping centers, on college campuses, and elsewhere across the country.
Recently, though the company decided to update the Panda Express aesthetic for the modern customer. “When our guests walk into our restaurants, they should immediately feel that they are going to experience something that is a cut above the rest,” executive director of construction David Wang says. “From premium ingredients to the dining room décor to our music selection—every detail ensures that our guests are transformed to a special place when they enter our stores.” In an unexpected move, though, the company has opted to design and build two different restaurant prototypes instead of conceiving one across-the-board standard.
The new prototypes, Blocks of Flavor and Bright and Fresh, have cleaner, upscale lines, and both emphasize the “Panda” in Panda Express in their signage. The traditional red of the exterior has been enhanced with neutral tones for the Blocks of Flavor concept, and it has been replaced with more glass and chrome for Bright and Fresh. Inside, both prototypes favor contemporary finishes and have more communal tables to accommodate larger parties. “There are special personalities with both designs,” Wang says. “The Blocks of Flavor [design] generates warmer feelings while the Bright and Fresh [design] is more modern, with a real emphasis on fresh.”
The new prototypes have more modern, sustainable features as well, including CFL and LED lighting, all-LED signage, recycled materials in the decorative features, motion-sensor sinks in all the bathrooms, energy-efficient AC units, and roofs outfitted with white heat-reflective shingles. Wang has been in contact with customers at both prototypes and is pleased to see that they appear as excited with the changes as he is.
The first of the new prototypes recently went up in Balch Springs, Texas, and Memphis, Tennessee, and Wang looks forward to the upcoming team effort to implement the new designs elsewhere. “We have a design team, construction team, and facility team all scheduled to work with operations and marketing,” he says. “We’ll connect all the feedback and information from value engineering, making necessary changes from there regarding moving forward.”
Until that time, both the Blocks of Flavor and Bright and Fresh prototypes will continue to inspire the retail construction industry with their focus on modern designs for today’s savvy customers—a focus Wang sees as in keeping with Panda Restaurant Group’s mission statement, which is to “deliver exceptional Asian dining experiences by building an organization where people are inspired to better their lives,” he says.
“I like being part of an organization where people are inspired to better their lives,” he adds. “That mission statement—it’s not just a plaque mounted on the wall. It’s something for the chairman all the way down to all the associates. Everyone’s involved in this mission.” ABQ
Meet David Wang
Where did you go to school?
I received my master’s degree in civil engineering from Texas Tech University, in Lubbock, Texas.
What was your first construction job?
It was in Los Angeles, working for a construction and development company in 1986.
How did you wind up working for Panda Restaurant Group’s construction department?
It was through a friend’s recommendation. At that time, Panda had less than 200 stores, and they were looking for a project manager. I thought a Chinese fast-food chain was a very interesting concept, so I applied and got it. That was in ’95.
What personal goals do you have in your current role?
My goal is to develop and support the company growth plan, to build the best stores, in class, and become loved by our ops team and our guests.