Aug 6, 2017

Panda Express + Tea Bar and Future Menu Items Q&A

I recently visited one of the new Panda Express + Tea Bar restaurants, which offers salads, Bings (wraps AKA the Panda Express burrito), and tea that you can't get at normal Panda Express locations.

During my visit, I was able to inquire into the relatively new concept (which was originally pioneered at their Innovation Kitchen test restaurant) and what might be in the works menu-wise for the Asian-American chain.

Here's what I found out:

Q. Are there any plans to expand the menu to regular Panda Express locations (i.e will all Panda Express locations eventually be serving Bings?)

A. Currently, the salads and Bings are available only at our Panda Express + Tea Bar restaurants.
The Panda Express + Tea Bar restaurants are our next generation of restaurants resulting from learnings from guests and operations at the Panda Express Innovation Kitchen in Pasadena, CA. Panda Express + Tea Bar restaurants showcases Panda’s innovation and implementation of new systems and menu offerings that will better our guest experience.

Q. Will the tea bar eventually make its way to most Panda Express locations? (I know there's the problem of space to make tea in a number of locations). Perhaps as a pre-made option if making it at each location isn't viable?

A. We have 27 Panda Express locations that have our Tea Bar offerings. Moving forward, additional Panda Tea Bars will only be included in future Panda + Tea locations.

Q. Why was the wrap for the Bing was changed from the fried scallion pancake version to more of a green onion moo-shu-type wrap?

A. The Panda Express Bing is a nod to our Chinese origins and an expression of our originality as an American Chinese company. It is also solution for guests who are looking for a way to eat their Panda Express on the go.

A traditional scallion pancake normally has many layers, and is pan or deep fried.  While we love the eating experience it creates, we thought by making it more "mushu"-like, it would be a great twist on the scallion pancake that created portability to enjoy our food for our guests on the go.

Q. Butter and fish sauce are two of the five sauce ingredients for Five Flavor Shrimp. Can you go a bit into what each adds to the dish? During product development, what other ingredients were considered and why did you eventually not go in that direction?

A. Butter adds a richness to the sauce that’s complimentary to the shrimp. Fish sauce adds a savory umami flavor adding a depth of flavor to the dish and takes it to the next level.

Q. What were some of the difficulties of coming up with Five Flavor Shrimp? Conversely, what were you most happy with in helping to come up with Five Flavor Shrimp?

A. Shrimp entrees are popular with our guests who are adventurous and seek new and bold flavors. Challenges are part of the iteration process and crafting Five Flavor Shrimp was no exception. From a culinary side, we challenged ourselves to create new flavor profiles honoring our Chinese origins, while delivering original flavors to our guests. After much iteration, the current Five Flavor sauce reflected the sauce at its best - flavorful, craveable, and uniquely Panda.

Panda prides itself in delivering exceptional Asian dining experiences and this includes consistently delivering the same quality flavors our guests expect and love. Because of this, it takes us anywhere from 12 - 18 months to launch a new entree to develop the recipes, source the ingredients, and train our associates in our restaurants.

Q. Has Panda considered adding braised items to the menu? It seems like something that would work well on the steam table also it might require different kitchen equipment. Is it something you guys have tested?

A. Yes! We tested a Chinese Beef Brisket Stew at the Panda Express Innovation Kitchen until early June. We previously tested a vegetable curry as well. Braises do hold well on our serving table and it’s something we’re hoping to bring to guests at all our Panda locations in the future.

Q. Is pork belly a possible future product you're working on? Can you talk about that at all? Do steamed buns figure into that?

A. Pork is a prominent ingredient in Chinese cuisine and there are many flavorful and delicious dishes to share with our guests, including one that includes pork belly.  It is wonderful to have our Innovation Kitchen so close to our Support Center, as it allows our Culinary Innovations Team to continually test and new dishes and ideas directly with our guests for real time feedback.

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