A Chinese fast-food chain with Southern California roots is headed for Japan. American shopping mall food court staple Panda Express will open one of several planned Japanese locations in late November or early December in the city of Kawasaki, about 15 miles south of Tokyo.
Panda Express launched in Glendale, California in 1983 and has since expanded to nearly 2,000 locations; it recently opened an "Innovation Kitchen" in LA where customers can find uniquely Chinese-American creations such as orange chicken burritos. (Amazingly, the chain didn’t serve the iconic Chinese-American dish General Tso’s chicken until this year.)
The Kawasaki store will serve the full Panda Express menu, and it sounds like some Asian fusion is in store: It will also serve "dishes that pay homage to the region," a spokesperson says.
Panda’s move into Japan is a result of a recent joint venture hatched with Ippudo, the acclaimed Japan-based ramen house with multiple locations in New York City. Panda Express is helping Ippudo expand in the U.S., and now Panda is moving into Japan as a sort of "culinary exchange," as RocketNews explains.
The news got mixed reactions on Reddit’s Japan subforum: One user in Japan said they looked forward to eating "delicious orange chicken goodness," while another predicted imminent failure: "How many Western chains have we seen do this in Japan?"
It’s actually the chain’s second attempt at Japanese expansion: Back in 2001 Panda Express had eight franchised stores in Japan. They were all closed by 2010 or so — but having the help of a restaurant group that’s native to the country means things look brighter the second time around.