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13 Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Panda Express

Updated: Apr. 02, 2021

Learn about the founders' sweet story, innovations at its live test kitchen, and more surprising facts from America's biggest Chinese food restaurant.

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Panda Inn
Courtesy Panda Express

It has a sit-down predecessor

Before Panda Express, co-owner Andrew Cherng opened sit-down Chinese restaurant Panda Inn with his dad, Master Chef Ming-Tsai Cherng, in 1973. Panda Inn still has five locations in California.

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Owners Andrew and Peggy
Courtesy Panda Express

It’s a family-owned chain

Panda Express has more than 2,000 locations worldwide, but it’s still owned and operated by husband and wife Andrew and Peggy Cherng, making it one of America’s largest family-owned restaurants. Find out what the first locations of famous fast food restaurants looked like.

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Panda Express Interior
Courtesy Panda Express

Both Andrew and Peggy are immigrants

Sure, the Chinese food at Panda Express might be “Americanized,” but it has authentic roots: Andrew was born in Yangzhou, China, and lived in Taiwan and Japan as a child; Peggy was born in Burma and grew up in Hong Kong, according to Forbes.

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Andrew and Peggy College Sweethearts
Courtesy Panda Express

The owners are college sweethearts

The Cherngs met at Baker University and both got postgraduate degrees at the University of Missouri. The college sweethearts got married in 1975—and 43 years later, they’re still together! Make sure you know the truth behind these 12 fast food “facts” that aren’t true.

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Panda Express Exterior
Courtesy Panda Express

A wildly successful food chain wasn’t their original dream

At the University of Missouri, Andrew earned his master’s in applied mathematics, while Peggy got a PhD in electrical engineering. Before joining Panda Express, she developed software for 3M and McDonnel Douglas aerospace manufacturing, plus did coding for the U.S. Navy.

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Orange Chicken
Courtesy Panda Express

Panda Express invented orange chicken

Chef Andy Kao is credited with inventing Panda Express’s signature dish in 1987, four years after the restaurant first opened. Now the sweet and tangy orange chicken is a staple in American Chinese food. “It was that cross-cultural path: Take that iconic American fried chicken, and combine it with a very authentic Chinese sauce,” says Jimmy Wang, director of culinary innovation for Panda Express. Don’t miss the stories behind famous fast food restaurants’ names.

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Panda Express owners getting food
Courtesy Panda Express

Panda Express has a live test kitchen

At the Innovation Kitchen in Pasadena, California, you can see Panda Express experiment with new technology, uniforms, music, beverages, and of course food. “We don’t believe that every time we create a dish it should go to the masses right away,” says Wang. “Sometimes it’s a hit; sometimes it’s a miss, but a live audience is the best way to get engagement and to learn.” A lot of seasonal offerings started in the Innovation Kitchen, which has also featured dishes ranging from Chinese-inspired Brussels sprouts and cauliflower to grilled steak.

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Panda Express Exterior
Courtesy Panda Express

Mall locations aren’t its main business

You might associate the chain with food courts, but most of its locations are in standalone spots—only 2 or 3 percent are in malls, according to Wang.

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Orange Chicken Panda Express
Courtesy Panda Express

They sell more than 285,000 orders of orange chicken every day

Over the course of a year, that adds up to about 90 million pounds of orange chicken—enough for every person in America to eat four pieces. Panda Express doesn’t add MSG to its food, but learn about what MSG really is and whether it deserves its bad rap.

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Panda Express Charity Bell
Courtesy Panda Express

Its charity bell is symbolic

If you’ve ever donated money to Panda Cares (Panda Group’s charity for children’s hospitals, schools, and disaster relief) after ordering, you probably heard a bell go off near the register. That tone doesn’t just announce your good deed but also symbolizes the bell that young patients at Children’s Miracle Network hospitals get to ring when they get to go home, according to Wang. Since 1999, Panda Cares has raised more than $107 million.

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Panda Express Interior
Courtesy Panda Express

You aren’t tied to one side

Can’t decide if you want to indulge in chow mein or keep it healthy with mixed vegetables? Just ask the employee to give you half of each for no extra cost, says Wang.

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Panda Express Menu
Courtesy Panda Express

There are other menu “hacks” to try

While there’s no official “secret menu” at Panda Express, chef Wang says he’s seen customers get creative with their meals. Try mixing hot sauce in orange chicken for an extra kick, or pour chow mein in hot and sour soup for a DIY noodle bowl. Check out these other “secret menu” hacks to try at Chinese restaurants.

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Panda Express Burrito
Courtesy Panda Express

The company doesn’t just do Chinese food

In 1992, Panda Group—the parent company of Panda Express—opened Japanese grill and sushi chain Hibachi-San. It now has 20 locations in the United States. Don’t miss these 33 secrets fast food workers aren’t telling you.