By: Christina Vo
Meet Peggy Cherng, One of America’s Richest Self-
Panda Express, the Chinese fast food restaurant you can find in pretty much any food court and city where most of the people in line are most likely craving orange chicken, fried rice, and/or chow mein. When you think of Panda Express, the first thing that pops into your head is the food, but have you ever thought who was the person behind this food place. Panda Express was co-founded by CEOs Peggy and Andrew Cherng, first-generation Chinese immigrants who created the biggest Chinese fast food restaurant in the country. Peggy Cherng is one of America’s richest self-made women, making the Forbes Top 40s ranking of the country’s most successful self-made women entrepreneurs and executives. But you’ll be surprised to hear that she didn’t begin her story in the career of business, but in engineering!
Born in Burma and raised in Hong Kong, Peggy immigrated to the United States for college where she met her husband and later, earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering. She worked for McDonnell Douglas and 3M, coding simulators for the US Air Force, but ultimately left her engineering career to join her husband in opening up the first Panda Express ever in Glendale, California. Peggy and Andrew Cherng were inspired to open up Panda Express as a way to introduce Chinese culture to America, creating American Chinese food dishes to bring people together to share joy. In fact, Panda Express’s name was influenced by how pandas acted as “a symbol of friendship” between China and the USA. Peggy’s expertise in engineering served a major role in the innovation of Panda Express. She developed systems that streamline operations, tracking customer feedback, and further strengthened the expansion of Panda Express. In an effort to give back to the communities and inspire Panda’s employees, Peggy further established Panda Cares, the philanthropic arm of the company that has donated more than $48 million towards non-profit organizations, schools, and children’s hospital.
“We are Chinese first-generation immigrants, and since we’ve been able to achieve the American dream, we feel a responsibility to pay it forward to the generations after us,” Cherng says. “We really wanted to create an initiative for our associates to see our mission and values in action.”
Peggy Cherng is truly a representation of how far a vision, hard work, and perseverance can take you! She is a first generation Chinese immigrant who began her journey with aspirations in engineering to finding her success in the fast food industry with no relative experience at all. But all along, she was the secret ingredient needed for Panda Express to propel its growth as her technical knowledge became an advantage to the company’s prosperity. Now after 36 years in business, Peggy and her husband, Andrew built a $3.5 billion fast food empire with over 2,200 locations. Panda Express has not only become a place to devour quality American Chinese food, but also paved the way for Chinese food culture and a deeper understanding in Asian cuisines today in America.
Christina Vo is a 16-year old unapologetic first-generation Vietnamese American activist, speaker, and poet from San Jose, California who’s making her mark on this world. She’s full of curiosity and passion, fighting towards social justice through amplifying voices, speaking out, and creating change.