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Panda Express files plans to go into new building near Wal-Mart at 33rd and Iowa

Lawrence’s South Iowa Street still isn’t going to have a mall, but soon it will have a staple of mall food courts across the country.

Panda Express, the country’s largest quick-service Chinese food restaurant chain, has filed plans to locate in the new building in front of Wal-Mart at the southeast corner of 33rd and Iowa streets.

As previously reported, an AT&T Wireless store will take a portion of the building, and in a little bit of a turn of events, Panda Express will take the rest. At one point, speculation was strong that Chipotle would occupy the building, but it looks as if the nationalities have changed on us.

I don’t have any word yet on when the restaurant may open. (The AT&T store, I’ve been told, is slated to open in March.) The Panda Express filing at City Hall was sparse on details. In fact, it doesn’t spell out that a Panda Express is the tenant, but the architectural plans have a Panda Express logo on them, which is a pretty good indicator.

The restaurant serves a lot of the basic Chinese dishes you are familiar with, such as, Kung Pao Chicken, Mandarin Chicken, and Broccoli and Beef. But it also has some less standard dishes like Honey Walnut Shrimp, Eggplant Tofu, and even some dishes with Angus steak. (Tofu or Angus steak, how am I ever going to decide?)

More interesting than the company’s menu, though, is its back story. I found this recent article on CNN Money that interviews the company’s two founders and co-CEOs, Andrew and Peggy Cherng.

Apparently, they met while in school at Baker University in Baldwin City, in the late 1960s. Both had immigrated to America — Andrew from China via Japan and Peggy from Burma.

Who knows? Maybe the founders will come back to the area for the store’s grand opening. It does appear that they’ve returned to Baker on occasion to help with fundraising at the private university.

If you are like me and enjoy reading about entrepreneurs, the entire CNN article is a pretty good read. It also isn’t too bad of a testimonial on the value of a Baker education. Panda Express, with about 1,500 restaurants, had revenue of about $1.7 billion last year.

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