Panda Express Launches Community Investment

By Hira Waheed

2 June 2023

Andrew Cherng was born in 1947 in China while the country was embroiled in a civil war. While his father, Ming-Tsai (no relation to Iron Chef Ming-Tsai), managed to leave the country for a job in Taiwan, Andrew and his mother were trapped due to the communist takeover. Eventually, Andrew’s mother was one of several escapees who hid within the bottom of a boat. Afraid that Andrew’s crying would give away the hiding place, his mother paid a smuggler to extract him and bring him to Hong Kong. It took three separate attempts, but Andrew was finally reunited with his parents.

Panda Express Launches Community Investment

Immigrants Hard Work

In 1966, he won a scholarship to Baker University in Kansas where he met his now-wife, a fellow immigrant named Peggy. After both earning their PhDs from the University of Missouri, Andrew and Peggy got married and, in 1983, they founded Panda Express.

Despite being credited with the invention of famed Orange Chicken, Panda Express was not an overnight success.

The first location at the Glendale Galleria mall in Los Angeles eventually spawned over 2,200 locations, including hundreds of stalls in food courts across the country. Today, the couple are billionaires and Panda Express remains the country’s largest family-owned-and-operated fast casual concept.

Now, the nation’s largest Asian American fast food chain is stepping outside of the cafeteria and into the classroom via its philanthropic arm.

Education Funding

In 2021, Panda Express launched a $10 million community investment program to fund AAPI organizations that combat anti-Asian sentiments and strengthen the Asian American community. As part of their initiatives, the fund recently announced a $450,000 grant over three years to bring five PhD fellows to the University of Pennsylvania’s Asian American Studies Program to nurture and grow its efforts.

In a recent press release, the brand stated, “Just as Panda [Express] bridges cultures through American Chinese food every day in their restaurants, the company and founding family believe that education of the past and present is an essential part in changing the narrative around the AAPI community and creating progress in inclusivity and belonging.”

Penn’s ASAM department recently celebrated its 25th anniversary and remains one of only two such programs within the Ivy League. With funding from Panda Express, this will be the first time that post-doctorates will be contributing to the Ivy League’s field of Asian American studies.

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