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Everyday Business | Wenatchee bear-hugs the Panda

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Panda Express in Wenatchee opened Feb. 1.

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By now, many of you have already raced to get your orange chicken fix at Wenatchee’s new Panda Express, which opened to huge crowds Feb. 1 on North Wenatchee Avenue.

In fact, you salivating Panda huggers have stood in lines stretching out the door, waited in long drive-through queues and even (last weekend) engaged in mini-traffic snarls to munch servings of black pepper chicken and honey walnut shrimp.

What can I say?” smiled General Manager Adrian Cuevas. “People love Panda Express.”

Based in California, the Chinese fast-food company (more than 2,000 locations nationwide and growing) spotted a large, no-Panda void in North Central Washington that needed to be filled, said Cuevas.

Plus, the Panda Express in Yakima, previously the closest Panda to Wenatchee, had noticed that a growing number of its customers hailed from NCW. “That was the clincher,” said Cuevas, “to build a restaurant here.”

On a construction fast track, crews poured footings in late September for the 1,450-square-foot restaurant. The company-owned outlet — an upscale prototype of Panda Express design — opened just four months later.

Cuevas noted that the Wenatchee building’s exterior and interior have a more contemporary design than traditional, stand-alone Panda Express outlets. The new restaurant also boasts an upscale theme for color and design elements (lights, table styles, wall art) not found at Pandas located in commercial strips, mall food courts and airports.

By the way, Cuevas, 27, was raised in Wenatchee. For the last two years, he’s worked at Yakima’s Panda Express. When the general manager position came open in Wenatchee, he jumped to apply and, maybe, have a chance to move back home. He got the job.

Now, Cuevas leads a crew of 20 (hiring continues at pandacareers.com) to serve the hundreds — no, thousands — of Wenatchee Valley-ites so far who have satisfied their Panda cravings with one of the restaurant’s 15 entrees and side dishes.

Speaking of which … as the Chinese New Year nears (Feb. 16), Panda Express will be promoting its newest seasonal dish, Eight-Treasure Chicken Breast. It’s eight ingredients are chicken, diced pork sausage, bell peppers, celery, Chinese black beans and whole dry chili peppers, all “wok-tossed” with a spicy-savory sauce.

But the favorite item that everyone asks for?” laughed Cuevas. “Orange chicken. They want that orange chicken.”

Details: Panda Express Chinese Kitchen, 1920 N. Wenatchee Ave., Wenatchee (next to EZ’s Burger Deluxe). Phone: 662-0800. Web: pandaexpress.com. Open: 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

This weekly column is compiled from reporter Mike Irwin’s “Everyday Business” postings on the Wenatchee World website. You can reach him at 665-1179 or irwin@wenatcheeworld.com.