Meet the billionaire couple behind Panda Express, who run nearly 2,000 restaurants and sell 90 million pounds of orange chicken a year
- Panda Express co-founders and CEOs Andrew and Peggy Cherng have a combined net worth of more than $3 billion.
- Over 25 years, they oversaw Panda Express' growth from a single restaurant in a California mall to a 2,000-restaurant worldwide empire.
- They continue to own and operate virtually every Panda Express restaurant themselves.
In 25 years, Panda Express has transformed from a single restaurant in a southern California mall to a 2,000-location empire around the world.
The masterminds behind the American Chinese behemoth are Andrew and Peggy Cherng, the married couple that founded the company in the early 1980s and continues to own and operate every Panda Express themselves.
Today, the Cherngs have amassed a combined net worth of $3.3 billion, making them two of the richest people in America.
But the Cherngs weren't always on track to build a fast-food empire. Andrew earned a master's degree in mathematics before he opened his first restaurant, while Peggy earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, eventually using her expertise to pioneer the American Chinese restaurant industry.
Read on to see how the Cherngs made their fortune in America:
Andrew and Peggy Cherng are the cofounders and CEOs of Panda Express, the American Chinese restaurant with nearly 2,000 locations worldwide. According to Forbes, the Cherngs have a combined net worth of $3.3 billion.
The Cherngs own and operate virtually every Panda Express location themselves — they don't franchise them out to other owners, making Panda Express a rarity among restaurant chains of its size.
Andrew Cherng was born in Yangzhou, China. His father was a chef, but Andrew didn't enter the restaurant industry at first — he came to the US to study math, eventually earning a master's degree in applied mathematics from the University of Missouri.
During his undergraduate studies at Baker University in Kansas, Andrew Cherng met his future wife, Peggy. Born in Burma and raised in Hong Kong, Peggy eventually earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering.
Andrew Cherng spent his summers waiting tables at Chinese restaurants in New York City. In 1973, he opened his own sit-down restaurant in Pasadena, California, called Panda Inn, with his father as chef.
The opening of Panda Inn coincided with President Richard Nixon's famous 1972 visit to China, a watershed moment in US-China relations. As Peggy Cherng explained, pandas were viewed as "a symbol of friendship" between the two countries.
In 1982, Peggy Cherng joined Andrew in the restaurant business, and the two opened the first Panda Express in a mall in Glendale, California.
Panda Express began growing rapidly, expanding to 97 restaurants within 10 years. "In the beginning, we said we wanted to be the McDonald's of the East," Peggy Cherng told Bloomberg Businessweek.
Peggy Cherng used her engineering expertise to streamline the company's operations and logistics. She pioneered the use of technology for tasks like tracking inventory and re-ordering ingredients, a practice other American Chinese restaurants had not yet adopted.
Today, Panda Express sells 90 million pounds of its signature orange chicken each year, as well as 22 million pounds of broccoli, according to The New York Times.
The Cherngs found gold in their family-owned business. Collectively, they are among the 250 richest people in the US, according to Forbes. Individually, Peggy Cherng is the 11th-richest self-made woman in the country.
Two of the Cherngs' three children work for Panda Express' corporate parent, Panda Restaurant Group. Andrea Cherng (pictured below) is chief marketing officer, while Nicole Cherng is manager of catering and special events.
The Cherngs frequently cite their philosophy of treating employees well and allowing them to improve and advance their careers. As a symbol of this attitude, they purchased a 12-foot high Robert Indiana 'LOVE' sculpture to display outside their corporate headquarters.
"Love is the verb we emphasize with our Panda family," Peggy Cherng told The Times. "We must respect and care for each other. We must push and stretch each other."
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