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Is Panda Express a Franchise?

With thousands of Panda Express, Panda Inn and Hibachi-san locations around the country, aspiring franchisees may be surprised by the brand’s investment terms.

By Victoria CampisiStaff Writer
11:11AM 02/28/24

Panda Express, the well-known fast-food chain specializing in Asian-style cuisine, has 2,300 locations across the United States. Surprisingly, Panda Express has chosen to remain a corporately owned business, meaning it does not offer franchise opportunities. 

Panda Express operates under the umbrella of the Panda Restaurant Group, which also includes Panda Inn and Hibachi-san. The company is renowned for serving Asian-style entrees, appetizers and sides in a fast-food environment. Panda Express adheres to the "Panda Way," an extension of the corporation's values that emphasize a healthy lifestyle, continuous learning and acknowledging others.

In the 1990s, Panda Express nearly went public and entertained the idea of offering franchise opportunities. However, the corporation ultimately decided against it, opting to maintain sole ownership of its business.

Panda Express Licensing Opportunities

Although the brand does not offer franchising, Panda Express does have licensing agreements. This means that an individual or entity (the licensee) may use the branding, trademarks and operational methods of Panda Express for a specified period and under specific terms and conditions.  

A licensing agreement differs from a franchise agreement in that it typically grants fewer rights and controls to the licensee. Franchise agreements often involve more extensive support, ongoing control and a greater degree of standardization. Licensing agreements provide a more-flexible arrangement for both parties.

Panda Express offers licensing opportunities in various venues, including casinos, colleges and universities, airports, travel plazas, theme parks, military bases, non-traditional spaces, corporate campuses, hospitals, stadiums, and food courts. The goal is to create a network of successful Panda Express restaurants across diverse locations.

Panda Express Alternatives

Luckily, there are numerous opportunities to own Asian-style cuisine businesses through companies that do provide franchise options. Here are a few examples. 

Teriyaki Madness

  • Investment Range: $312,500-$731,260
  • Unit Count: 140+

Teriyaki Madness is a fast-casual restaurant offering high-quality, fresh and healthy Asian food. They specialize in marinating, grilling, and wok cooking to create hearty and delicious bowls made to order. The focus is on always using marinated and grilled meats that are fresh and never frozen, providing customizable bowls for a tasty and healthier dining experience.

Thai Express

  • Investment Range: $454,040-$726,700
  • Unit Count: 300+

Thai Express provides made-to-order Thai cuisine with fresh ingredients, quickly cooked in front of customers while they wait. Its vibrant environment, simple menu of more than 300 individual dish options and inviting customer service took Thai Express from a humble five stores to hundreds of locations in Canada since 2004. Now, the brand is introducing Thai Express to the United States market.

Jinya Ramen Bar

  • Investment Range: $1,395,500-$3,040,000
  • Unit Count: 50+

JINYA is known for its slow-cooked approach to ramen, made from broth simmered for 20 hours in-house. With a customizable menu and sleek interiors, the franchise presents a contemporary Japanese experience for its guests. 

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