A number of U.S.-based fast food and takeout-centric chains have hit it big in Japan, but most of them have some sort of quintessentially American foodstuff as their signature menu item. McDonald’s has the hamburger, Krispy Kreme the noble doughnut, and Kentucky Fried Chicken doubles down with not only an iconic favorite of the American south, but even a U.S. state in its name.
But soon Panda Express, the Southern California-based Chinese fast food chain that’s ubiquitous at West Coast shopping mall food courts, will be opening its first restaurant in Japan.
The venture will be handled by I&P Runway Japan, a joint entity set up last year between Panda Express-owner Panda Restaurant Group and Japan’s Chikara no Moto, the restaurant management group behind the much-loved "tonkotsu" ramen chain Ippudo. Originally formed to help Ippudo get a foothold in the U.S., the culinary exchange is now flowing back to Japan, with the first Japanese Panda Express expected to open before the end of the year.
Skeptics may wonder what use Japan has for an American take on Chinese food, given that the country is geographically much closer to China than the U.S. But not all Chinese food available in Japan is purely authentic either, with much of it being adapted to local tastes, since Japan is generally willing to forgive tinkering with tradition as long as the result pleases the palate.
There’s also the fact that even the other American chains we mentioned above, which are all extremely successful in Japan, have created a number of Japan–specific items to boost their popularity here, so there’s a pretty good chance we’ll see Panda Express roll out something just for Japan too once it arrives in the country. Plus, it’s got a panda in its logo, and you can never underestimate the marketing power of cuteness in Japan.
Source: Chikara no Moto
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