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    Can you wok the wok? Why Chinese restaurants aren’t dominated by chains

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | August 12, 2007

    Chinese food is the largest restaurant segment not dominated by chains  — as opposed to hamburgers, pizza, Mexican and Italian. Big chains like General Mills and Darden have tried and fled with Leann Chins and China Coast.

    Of the 40,000 Chinese restaurants, pandaexpresslogo.jpg the two big exceptions are the  Chinese restaurant chains Panda Express (fastfood) out of Rosemead,  Calif. with almost 1,000 stores and P.F. Changs (sitdown) out of Scottsdale, Arizona with just over 200.

    Panda — which has 16,000 employees –  is privately-owned and was started by the Cherng family in the early 1980s. As for publicly-traded P.F. Chang (PFCB), there is no Mr. Chang. The P.F. stands for “Paul Fleming” who was the founder of the Outback Steak House and Chang is an American-friendly version of Chiang, from Philip Chiang, who helped design the menu when the restaurant chain started in the early 1990s.

    Sarah Filus of The Los Angeles Business Journal has piece about Panda Express’s plan to expand into the sit-down fine dining Chinese restaurant space — which is currently dominated by P.F. Chang.

    So why has it been so hard for Chinese restaurants to become chained? Because it’s hard to ‘wok the wok,’  according to a 2003 Wall Street Journal article by Shirley Leung. Wok cooking is horrifically hard, requiring strength and agility and a fearlessness towards strong flames. Your wok cook is not going to be your minimum-wage laborer off the street. Panda Express gets around this by having no wok-cooking in its stores, much of the stuff is pre-prepared in a way that doesn’t involve woks. P.F. Changs has a weeks-long training course in its headquarters in Scottsdale. (I actually really like the food at P.F. Changs though one time I found it a bit salty). 

    When you look at a P.F. Chang training class, you realizse the guy cooking your Mongolian beef is more like to habla espanol than Chinese.

    Topics: Chinese Food | No Comments »

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