Education: Baker University, major in math
First job: Washing dishes in a school cafeteria.
Cherng on restaurant location: Malls are guaranteed traffic. You’re protected in a way because there are a variety of different kinds of concepts. With the mall environment, there is an easier tool to predict the outcome of your business. There’s a strong relationship between the average mall sales and the sales of your own store.
Cherng on competition: We opened our first Panda Inn in 1973. Within a half-mile, there were two other Chinese restaurants on the same street that opened around the same month. I looked at that area for a long time and thought that was a good place to open. Then, the moment I make the decision, boom, boom, those two come. But they’re not there anymore. We had no choice but to survive. Hibachi-San (Japanese cuisine) is really a defensive strategy for us only in malls where Panda Express is. That’s so we don’t get another Asian place coming in.
Cherng on building loyalty: When we started Panda Inn, we had a reputation that our people were very good. Our waiters could get a job anyplace when they left Panda Inn. The reason was we were pretty demanding in how they worked. I don’t just hire a waiter, I hire a future manager.
Cherng on the family business: My father [Master Chef Ming-Tsai Cherng, the first chef at the first Panda Inn, which opened in Pasadena in 1973] was always the first to arrive and the last to leave the restaurant. That was his life. He was very proud of what we have done. For someone to go from always working at restaurants to owning a restaurant ... that was one of his most glorious moments. [Ming-Tsai Cherng died in 1981].