In her book The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, Jennifer 8 Lee highlights the fact that there are more Chinese restaurants in the United States than McDonalds, Burger Kings, Wendy’s, Domino’s, and Pizza Huts put together. With 41,000 Chinese restaurants, one would assume that there would be a good number of national sit-down chains included in that number. But there aren’t.
It’s not that the concept hasn’t been tried. The Darden chain, parent company to Olive Garden and Red Lobster, opened its China Coast Chinese restaurants in the 1990s, but it failed miserably. While Panda Express has succeeded in establishing an impressive chain of 1,500 Chinese fast-food restaurants across the country, the number of its sit-down Panda Inn branded restaurants (which were actually launched before the Panda Express chain rolled out) has dwindled to about five locations, all in Southern California. And any number of other local Chinese restaurant chains have tried expanding outside their home area, but without success.
So why aren’t there national chains dishing out sit-down Chinese food in the United States?