Elkhart diners later this year will no longer have to drive to Mishawaka or Warsaw to enjoy fast-casual Chinese eatery Panda Express.
The Rosemead, Calif.-based chain has confirmed it plans a new location at Elkhart’s Shoppes on Six development southwest of C.R. 6 and Cassopolis Street, and expects to open in November.
The restaurant, which offers drive-thru and dine-in options, will front Cassopolis Street, north of the Burger King near that intersection.
Its signature dish is its orange chicken, which is lightly battered and fried, and sautéed in a sweet and mildly spicy chili sauce. Other popular items are the honey walnut shrimp, shanghai angus steak, kung pao chicken, broccoli beef and chow mein.
Special promotions, such as firecracker shrimp, coinciding with Chinese holidays and festivals, also periodically bring new flavors to customers.
All of the items are prepared on site but are served quickly for the lunch crowd.
Founder Andrew Cherng opened the first Panda Express in 1983 in the Glendale (Calif.) Galleria mall as a spinoff from his casual dining restaurant, Panda Inn. The first free-standing location came in 1993 in Barstow, Calif., but malls remained their focus until an aggressive stand-alone location push began in the mid-2000s.
There are now more than 1,700 locations throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, Guam, Canada, Mexico and Korea. More than 250 sites have been added over the past two years, and sales hit $2.2 billion last year. Annual sales growth has averaged 15 percent over the past four years.
This will be the 17th location in Indiana.
“Panda is excited and honored to be part of and serve the Elkhart community,” said Sylvia Takacs, area coach of operations. “As a family-owned and operated company, we value the sense of community that Elkhart has.”
Fast casual dining expert Brenda Smith, editor at Fastcasual.com, said Panda Express “sort of straddles the line” between fast food and fast-casual, in terms of the quality of the food and the interior of the restaurant, but leans a bit more toward fast-casual.
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Smith said she’s been most impressed with Panda’s launch in September of an app that allows members of a group to combine carry-out orders, using their own mobile devices and paying separately.
“They’re making it really easy to use their service from work,“ Smith said. ”They’re the only ones I know of who are doing this in the fast-casual segment. They’re doing well and they’re growing.”