Fast-casual dining is dominating the restaurant industry, and its growth is expected to continue at a rapid pace in a post-pandemic economy.
Aspiring restaurateurs looking for a formal education in this fast-growing segment of the restaurant industry will soon be able to turn to UNLV’s Harrah College of Hospitality. Thanks to a $5 million gift from Andrew and Peggy Cherng, co-founders and co-chief executive officers of Panda Restaurant Group—the parent company of Panda Express—the college has created a first-of-its-kind academic program in fast-casual dining.
“This gift is an absolute game changer for the college and helps further UNLV’s position as a world-leader in hospitality education,” says Stowe Shoemaker, dean of the Harrah Hotel College. “The Cherngs are helping UNLV build a curriculum in an area that is underrepresented in hospitality programs worldwide, and one that will only grow in demand as interest in fast-casual dining continues to surge.”
The landmark gift will support:
The hiring of a full-time Hospitality College faculty member to design a comprehensive fast-casual curriculum as well as teach courses
The development and launch of a15-credit fast-casual academic concentration, offered as part of the college’s Bachelor of Science degree in Hospitality Management
Over the past several years, Panda has placed dozens of UNLV students and graduates into line employee, supervisory, and management positions. By offering this first-of-its-kind specialization in fast-casual dining, Panda will help the college build a pipeline of professionals ready to lead this emerging dining segment.
“It will give our students a broader understanding of the complex facets of the food and beverage market, and it will set them apart for growing employment opportunities in the fast-casual segment,” says Shoemaker.
“Peggy and I want to empower people through education, and what better place to do that than at the world’s premier Hospitality College,” adds Andrew Cherng, who appeared at the event alongside Peggy virtually. “We give because we want to be part of developing these students and providing them with opportunities to thrive in all aspects of their lives.”
When Andrew Cherng began serving on the Dean’s Global Advisory Board in 2017, a partnership between the Cherngs and the college quickly developed—one that was rooted in a shared vision.
“We [the Cherngs and the college] share the philosophy that life's greatest rewards come from changing the lives of others,” Shoemaker said. “But as I’ve observed Andrew and Peggy over these last few years—the way they constantly strive to awaken the potential of others—I’ve become even more inspired to reach for that goal.”
The Cherngs’ history of philanthropy is well established. In 1999, they created the organization’s philanthropic arm, Panda Cares, which has raised more than $216M to date to support the health and education of youth in underserved communities as well as disaster relief.
“Giving is essential for us,” says Peggy Cherng. “Giving allows us to show our appreciation to the community that embraced us.”
Plans are to offer a single course in fast-casual during the 2021 spring semester and to develop a full concentration within the next 18 to 24 months. The college currently offers academic concentrations in Event & Design Management, Hospitality Beverage Management, Innovative Restaurant Management, PGA Golf Management, and Gaming Management—with a new concentration in Tribal Gaming Operations also in the works.
In-person speakers at Thursday’s event included Dean Shoemaker, Panda multi-unit manager/UNLV alumna Sheena Serafica ’11, and UNLV Foundation Chair Diana Bennett.