To honor four decades of growth, Panda Express in May unveiled its most innovative restaurant design yet. 

The prototype, called Panda Home, is a tribute to the brand’s American Chinese heritage, with creative artwork inside and outside the building. The restaurant debuted in Dripping Springs, Texas, and Panda said more stores are on the way later in 2023 and in the years beyond. 

Additional pictures of Panda Home can be found here.

QSR recently spoke with chief development officer James Ku to learn more about the inspiration behind the prototype and what the store design means for the future of the fast casual. 

What motivated Panda Express to introduce the new store model, Panda Home, in Dripping Springs, Texas?

This year is Panda Express’ big 40th anniversary, and we’re celebrating this milestone with the new Panda Home store model. Over the past 30 years, Panda established a presence in Texas, with more than 30 locations to date in Austin alone. Dripping Springs, a neighboring city of Austin, is an ideal location to continue serving and sharing Panda Express dishes and culture to guests in Texas. The Austin area is known for its foodie offerings and diverse communities and has remained a key market for us. 

Can you elaborate on the design elements inspired by traditional Chinese architecture and traditions that are incorporated into the Panda Home store model?

The new Panda Home store model incorporates traditional Eastern elements like the moon gate-inspired entrance which mimics the shape of a full moon, symbolizing peace, prosperity, and family reunion in Chinese culture. Guests will also find a mural depicting cultural traditions including a dragon dance that is a key component of cultural celebrations. One of our favorite aspects is incorporating lighting, colors, and scenes inspired by the vibrancy of Chinatown. At night, the store exterior lights up in a way that brings a different type of energy to the space. 

How does the exterior design of Panda Home reflect the Panda Express brand and its story? Can you provide more details about the color palette, accents, and roofline?

Our brand is rooted in bringing people together by bridging cultures and flavors. We introduce flavors that may be foreign to some guests in a way that is approachable and something to be appreciated. This same concept is reflected in the new Panda Home store model which incorporates styles from both the East and West. For example, the exterior design of Panda Home store can be easily identified by Panda’s color palette of black and white with strong red accents complemented by a sweeping roofline that is commonly used in Chinese architecture. The clean lines and textures throughout the store tap into the more contemporary elements from Western design to create an environment that combines different design styles, cultures, and traditions. 

In what ways does the interior design of Panda Home celebrate the Panda Express culture? Can you describe the traditional and modern design motifs that guests will experience?

Honoring our origins and expressing our originality is an important part of our brand identity, and the interior design celebrates Panda’s heritage and tells a story that is unique and authentic to our American Chinese roots. The modern red pendants are inspired by traditional red lanterns in Chinatown and key features like the dragon from dragon dances, confetti tables, and the vibrant mural give off the feeling of a dynamic cultural celebration. All throughout the interior, there are nods to traditional Chinese architecture and design, but with a modern twist. 

How has the new store design been optimized to prioritize online ordering and drive-thru channels? Can you explain the changes made to the back-of-house area and how they support speed of service while maintaining quality operations?

We recognize that guests’ preferences have evolved in recent years, especially following the pandemic, with a strong desire for more efficient mobile ordering and delivery options. The new Panda Home store model has expanded digital pickup areas with additional screens for our guests to easily track their orders as we continue to see an increase in the number of digital orders. The Panda Home store model also provides an efficient process for guests ordering online and picking up their order in-store, using the drive-thru channels or opting for delivery. 

As for changes to the back-of-house area, we added kitchen equipment that helps speed up service while maintaining the quality Panda is known for, such as the Panda Auto Woks which also helps reduce the physically demanding component of wok-cooking for our associates. 

What was the inspiration behind collaborating with diverse, local artists to create unique Panda Sculptures? How does this initiative align with Panda Express’s values and goals?

As a family-owned business, Panda still operates like a mom-and-pop restaurant. It’s very important to us that we connect with and celebrate the communities that we serve. The Panda Sculptures initiative is a fun and engaging way to do that through art. 

Panda was built by immigrants, so we’ve always believed in the power of diversity and representation. Partnering with local artists throughout the country is our way of supporting and amplifying diverse voices. Artists have a chance to express their love for their community through a creative and personalized approach.

Can you share details about the custom artwork created by the local Asian American artist, Steffi Lynn, for the Panda Sculpture at the Dripping Springs, Texas, location? How does it highlight the rich culture and beautiful landscape of the area?

Steffi Lynn, an Austin native, did a beautiful job capturing the essence of the city and the surrounding areas like highlighting iconic architectural features such as water towers that Texas is known for, a nod to Texas’ collegiate sports, and showcasing Texas’ state flower, the bluebonnet. 

Will Panda Express continue to collaborate with local artists of diverse backgrounds for future Panda Sculptures? How does this commitment reflect the company’s dedication to the multicultural communities it serves?

We look forward to collaborating with talented artists of diverse backgrounds to support future Panda Sculptures where we open restaurants and create a stronger sense of community for and with our guests. The Panda Sculptures initiative is part of our brand’s larger commitment to foster a more respectful and inclusive society for tomorrow. Panda also has a philanthropy effort for this same cause called the Panda CommUnity Fund. It is a $10 million community investment and response program that supports immediate and sustainable solutions from national and local organizations to uplift diverse groups. To date, we’ve committed more than $5 million to support 50 nonprofit organizations that are doing impactful work to advocate for marginalized communities in need and empower diverse representation and storytelling across various industries.

Fast Casual, Growth, Story, Panda Express