Roger Goldstein Found His Way to Panda

Roger Goldstein describes his journey from the ranch to directing facilities for more than 2,000 stores with the Panda Restaurant Group

“I was wearing a suit and tie, I was sitting in an office in the middle of a bank branch, and I was very unhappy. It was a long way from the saddle.”

Roger Goldstein, Executive Director, Facilities & Energy, Panda Restaurant Group Courtesy of Service Channel

Roger Goldstein had already done the cowboy thing. It was the only job he had ever thought he would have. He grew up in ranching, 4H, and FFA. His father managed the Philmont Scout Ranch for the Boy Scouts of America, which functioned as a full horse and cattle ranch. Goldstein majored in range science and range management at Texas A&M and managed a ranch outside of College Station, Texas. But the normal world—a wife and family—eventually caught up with Goldstein, and he found himself in the last place any self-respecting cowboy would be seen: square in the middle of a bank.

Goldstein’s unusual path may have led him to a place where he didn’t feel at home, but it’s precisely because of that path that he would find his way out. Prior to banking, Goldstein worked in construction, hotel management, payroll processing, and then insurance and investments. He even owned a restaurant for a short time. “There’s a Richard Branson quote that has always stuck with me,” says Goldstein, citing the British billionaire known for founding the Virgin Group. “Say yes to anything that comes your way and then figure out how. I’ve been doing that my whole life.”

For the last 14 years, Goldstein has been exactly where he wanted to be, even if he didn’t know it yet. A restaurant equipment service job would eventually give way to a position with his favorite client: the Panda Restaurant Group. “I had already been on the restaurant side and didn’t want to do that again, but I had always thought the idea of being on the customer side in facilities was intriguing,” Goldstein remembers. “I started as a regional facility manager at Panda for New Mexico and Arizona, and it was the best career move I ever made.”

An exterior view of Panda Express Courtesy of Panda Restaurant Group

 Since 2006, Goldstein has worked his way up the facilities side of Panda; he currently serves as executive director of facilities and energy for the entire organization. In that time, he’s helped Panda evolve its sustainability practices in some ways that are progressive—and in other ways that are legitimately revolutionary.

It’s a long haul from where Goldstein admits he started. “From where I came up from, I wasn’t as aware of sustainability, and it certainly wasn’t as big of a deal as it is today,” the executive director says. “But as I got deeper into the energy world, I realized that Panda had already been implementing some really interesting things that were unheard of at the time.”

As far back as 2007, Panda was redesigning its commercial Chinese wok ranges—devices almost entirely reliant on huge amounts of water to keep themselves cool—to use little to no water. “After we rolled our internally waterless ranges out across the nation, it became the new standard,” Goldstein says. “It wasn’t something we were tooting our own horns about, but this is something the company has been focused on for a long time; I’m just happy to have been able to be part of it. Panda has shown that it really cares about these issues. Of course, there are considerations like cost savings and driving efficiencies, but most importantly, Panda’s mission is all about bettering the lives of its associates and communities. That starts with you, your coworkers, and your family, and eventually, you’re looking at the whole world.”

Panda focused on quality when converting all its steam tables for serving to innovative induction technology that had to be retooled back to formula by its internal engineering team. “You could cook all day with induction, but keeping something at a very specific temperature was a whole different story,” Goldstein explains. “It was quite a project.”

As Panda’s portfolio grew, so did its focus on waste management. Goldstein says it has been imperative to tackle the goal with a zero-waste mindset. “Any time you try to reach what seems like an unattainable goal, it’s tough, and you can lose drive,” the executive director says. “But you just have to have that mindset of, ‘What can we do to get there?’”

An interior shot of Panda Express Jeri Koegel

Every store undergoes a quarterly rightsizing process to ensure, among other initiatives, that trash and recycling pickup times are as efficient as possible. “Even if you’re just throwing away dollars by having an empty dumpster picked up, you’re also contributing to having that truck fired up and driving to your location and contributing to pollution,” Goldstein says. “It all ties together.”

In 2010, Panda piloted new energy management systems to find the ideal fit, seeking a balance of operational ease and efficiency for its operators in the field. Most recently, the company is piloting a new EMS in 100 stores, which it hopes to expand throughout its 2,000-store portfolio. Panda also replaced halogen and incandescent lighting with compact fluorescent lighting and is now progressively moving to LED, demonstrating that sustainability isn’t so much a destination as it is a journey.

Goldstein says he wouldn’t be successful were it not from the support he receives to move ahead on good ideas. “If you can make the business case and if it’s something you’re passionate about, you’ll be supported by the company in a phenomenal way,” Goldstein says. “They’re trusting, empowering, and will allow you to fail in order to learn from it and do it again better.”

It sounds like an old parable, but somehow it took a Panda to help the cowboy find his way back to the right path.

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Congratulations Roger Goldstein for the merited recognition you are receiving. Your drive & leadership is truly inspirational. The best practices approach you have to sustainability, zero waste, and energy efficiency is unparalleled. Craft Construction is proud of its longstanding turnkey National General Contractor relationship with you and Panda Restaurant Group.