Saturday, February 13, 2016

One Day at Panda Express.

On a bright day in the flats of San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles, the busiest restaurant around is a Panda Express tucked into a shopping center dominated by a Walmart. Running a fast-food operation isn't like other restaurants — here, we dive into the big picture, the tiny systems, and the daily struggles of keeping a quick-service shop humming.

Walnut Grove Avenue is a relatively barren stretch between the 10 and 60 freeways in the heart of the San Gabriel Valley, some 12 miles east of Downtown Los Angeles. There are two big anchors to the suburb: a large Edison utility headquarters, and the corporate headquarters of Panda Restaurant Group, parent company of Panda Express. One of LA's few Walmarts looms at the end of a huge parking lot, flanked by a strip mall with a collection of standard-issue retail slots.

While many diners still think of Panda as a shopping mall staple, the chain — founded in 1983 inside the Glendale Galleria mall just a few miles to the northeast — has more freestanding restaurants than food-court spots. Here in Rosemead, a brightly colored, standalone building in the parking lot is Panda's local flagship, a model store that's testing innovations the brand plans to roll out to its other locations, including a larger dining room, flatscreen TVs, and a drive-thru.

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