Every year Panda Express sells more than $2 billion dollars worth of broccoli beef and orange chicken. The vast restaurant empire stretches out to some 1,800 restaurants around the world and employs more than 18,000 people—and it all started in a trailer in Pasadena dubbed Panda Inn. That original location is still thriving on East Foothill Boulevard, but it might soon be torn down for a new apartment project planned by the family behind Panda Restaurant Group.
Andrew and Peggy Cherng met in college in the 1960s, and by 1972 they had arrived in Hollywood to manage a cousin’s restaurant. The next year they opened their own place: Panda Inn in the Hastings Ranch neighborhood. Andrew’s father worked in a kitchen in a converted trailer, but they soon built a permanent restaurant next door that was winning awards in its first few months. They built a second Panda Inn in Glendale in 1982, and then quickly added the first quick service Panda Express location in the Glendale Galleria.
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Last January, a Panda-managed development company called CFT NV purchased nearly four acres around the original restaurant for $40 million, including parking lots and an 11-story office tower. They are currently seeking city approval to demolish the Pasadena restaurant, which was remodeled in 1998. It is a sprawling space filled with Chinese artwork and is decorated with a distinctive panda tile mural along Foothill Boulevard. In its place would rise 258 apartments in two separate buildings. The project would also include a completely new, and larger, Panda Inn.
Goodbye Panda. Hello Panda.