For over 30 years, Panda Express has been serving delicious Chinese-American fare to millions of people worldwide.
From Mexico and South Korea to Los Angeles, New York City, and everywhere in between, Panda Express has become a household name for delicious Asian dishes.
Considering the vast popularity of the chain, it’s no surprise that many people are interested in franchising with Panda Express.
So, does Panda Express offer franchise opportunities? If not, what are potential alternatives?
In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about Panda Express franchises — and what you can do if you’re looking for a similar business opportunity.
About Panda Express
Panda Express is a fast-casual restaurant chain that specializes in American Chinese cuisine. Founded in 1983, it is now the largest Asian-segment restaurant chain in the United States.
At Panda Express, you can enjoy a variety of dishes cooked to order with fresh ingredients and seasonings.
Their signature dish is Orange Chicken, which features chunks of juicy chicken breast and crunchy vegetables, all tossed in a sweet and tangy orange sauce.
Chow Mein, another popular item on their menu, consists of wok-fried noodles mixed with a savory sauce and your choice of protein and vegetables.
In addition to its main dishes, Panda Express also offers sides like egg rolls, fried rice, pot stickers, chow mien funs, and more.
With each meal comes the option of white or brown rice as well as fortune cookies for dessert.
The atmosphere at Panda Express restaurants is inviting and casual; families are welcome to sit down together or grab food to go quickly.
The affordable prices make Panda Express an ideal spot for everyone looking for a delicious meal without breaking the bank.
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Panda Express Franchise History
Panda Express is a fast-casual restaurant chain that has become renowned the world over for its delicious American Chinese cuisine.
Founded in 1983 by Andrew Cherng and his father Ming-Tsai Cherng, Panda Express quickly grew in popularity thanks to its tasty dishes, inviting atmosphere, and affordable prices.
Panda Express began as an upscale table service restaurant called Panda Inn in Pasadena, California.
However, it was through their connection with then-UCLA football coach Terry Donahue that the Cherngs were invited to open a fast food version of Panda Inn at Glendale Galleria in October 1983.
From there, the first ever Panda Express was opened, and their rise to fame began.
The name “Panda Express” was chosen to emphasize the speed and convenience of the dining experience.
The restaurant chain began to expand rapidly in the following years, with its hundredth location opening on the UCLA campus in 1993.
In 2007, Panda Express opened its 1,000th location in Pasadena, and the same year achieved $1 billion in annual revenues for the first time.
Ten years later, in 2017, Panda Express opened its 2,000th location in New York City.
Today, the restaurant chain boasts over 2,300 locations spread across the United States and around the world.
Over the years, Panda Express has solidified itself as a mainstay in the American Chinese food industry, serving delicious dishes to millions of satisfied customers.
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How Much Does It Cost To Open a Panda Express Franchise
With its impressive growth and global reach, many people assume that Panda Express offers franchise opportunities.
However, this isn’t the case — all Panda Express locations are owned and operated by the parent company Panda Restaurant Group.
This means that for those interested in owning a Panda Express location, franchising isn’t an option.
Instead, the company offers licensing opportunities to independent operators who want to open their own store using the Panda Express brand and menu.
A licensing opportunity with Panda Express is considered a ‘co-branding’ agreement, meaning that the operator is responsible for running the restaurant while relying on the resources of Panda Restaurant Group.
This includes sourcing ingredients from approved suppliers, following strict operating standards, and utilizing marketing strategies created by the corporate team.
While becoming a licensee does not guarantee profitability, it certainly helps reduce risk compared to opening an independent business.
The cost associated with a licensing agreement with Panda Express varies depending on location, market conditions, and other factors.
However, applicants can expect to pay an initial base fee of around $25,000 before any other expenses are incurred.
The total investment required for licensing a Panda Express restaurant can range anywhere from $370,000 to $1,550,200, depending on the size of the store and other factors.
This includes expenses for architecture, construction, equipment procurement and installation, working capital, and more.
Despite the hefty price tag associated with opening a licensed Panda Express restaurant, it remains a viable option for those entrepreneurs looking to leverage the Panda Express brand for their own businesses.
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Why Doesn’t Panda Express Offer Franchising?
Panda Express has retained its corporate-owned model since it first opened in 1983.
Despite some attempts to go public and offer franchising opportunities in the 1990s, it has ultimately stayed true to its roots and kept the business corporately owned.
The decision not to offer franchising opportunities is due in part to the fact that Andrew Cherng, co-founder and CEO of Panda Restaurant Group, is an advocate for corporate ownership.
He believes that having complete control over operations and standards enables Panda Express to maintain quality control and provide customers with an exceptional dining experience.
In addition to quality control benefits, keeping Panda Express under corporate ownership also ensures that profits remain with the company rather than being shared with franchises.
This allows them to reinvest more money into their restaurants and operations while allowing their profits to grow faster over time.
While franchising opportunities are no longer available at Panda Express, they have had success with their licensing program, which provides independent operators with access to their branding, menu items, training programs, and more.
Panda Express Revenue & Profit
Panda Express has experienced exponential growth in its three decades of operation, culminating in a peak revenue of $3.5 billion in 2021.
This translates to an average annual revenue per store of $616,240 — a significant number considering the chain only operates about 2,300 locations worldwide.
This impressive figure is mainly due to Panda Express’s unique approach to fast-casual dining, offering high-quality Chinese food at accessible prices.
By focusing on efficiency and consistency across all locations, they’re able to keep costs low while providing an enjoyable experience for customers.
The company’s commitment to quality extends past its product and into its operations as well; Panda Express maintains a strict 30% EBITDA margin which allows it to remain profitable while reinvesting capital back into the business.
This helps the chain to stay agile and well-positioned to grow even further in the future.
What Are Some Alternatives To Panda Express Franchise?
For entrepreneurs looking for a similar type of business opportunity with fewer capital requirements, there are several alternatives to the Panda Express franchise.
Here are some popular options:
Noodles & Company
If you’re looking for a fast-casual franchising opportunity, Noodles & Company is one of the most popular options out there.
While its menu focuses mostly on noodle dishes from around the world, it also offers other items like soups and salads.
Founded in 1995, Noodles & Company has grown to more than 470 locations across the country and shows no signs of slowing down.
Unlike most fast food restaurants, Noodles & Company focuses on providing a higher quality dining experience with made-to-order meals that are both delicious and nutritious.
The initial investment required to open a Noodles & Company restaurant ranges from $727,300 to $1,032,642, depending on size and location.
This includes expenses for equipment procurement, construction costs, working capital, marketing funds, and more.
If you’re looking to get into the Chinese food industry without shelling out a fortune, Manchu Wok is an ideal choice.
Founded in 1980, this American-Chinese fast-food chain operates about 70 locations across America and Canada.
Unlike Panda Express, Manchu Wok does offer franchising opportunities to experienced entrepreneurs.
While the investment range is still hefty, ranging from $476,050 to $787,500, it’s a lower upfront cost than the Panda Express licensing program.
In return for the substantial investment, franchisees will receive access to some of Manchu Wok’s most popular menu items, as well as their logo and branding materials.
They’ll also have access to ongoing operational and marketing support from the corporate office, thus making it less risky to open a Manchu Wok franchise.
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Panda Express Comparison
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Panda Express has become a beloved chain in the United States thanks to its tasty and affordable Chinese food.
However, they don’t offer franchise opportunities like other popular fast-food restaurants.
While this can be a major setback for aspiring entrepreneurs looking to get into the restaurant business, there are some great alternatives out there that offer franchising opportunities with lower upfront costs, such as Noodles & Company and Manchu Wok.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Much Does It Cost To Open a Franchise Similar to Panda Express?
The cost to open a franchise similar to Panda Express varies depending on the company you choose, but it ranges anywhere from $476,050 to over $1 million.
Is Panda Express A Franchise?
No, Panda Express is not a franchise. They are a chain of fast-casual restaurants that are all owned and operated by the parent company, Panda Restaurant Group.
Who Owns Panda Express?
Panda Express is owned and operated by the Panda Restaurant Group, which was founded in 1973 by Andrew Cherng and his father, Ming-Tsai Cherng.
Amit Gupta is the founder of DrFranchises – a digital marketing agency that helps brands rank better on Google Maps through local SEO strategies. Amit has over 11 years of experience in digital marketing, SEO, email marketing, and social media marketing. He’s also the owner of multiple franchises and has helped countless brands achieve success online. When he’s not working, Amit can be found playing with his dog.