Today, Panda Restaurant Group — the parent company for mall food court staple Panda Express — is the nation’s top Asian fast-casual restaurant chain, with over $1.7 billion in revenue in 2012 alone. Founders Andrew and Peggy Cherng, Chinese and Burmese immigrants respectively, opened their first restaurant in 1983 which has grown to 1,500 locations. Fortune has the story of how a little luck, and awesomely meeting the legendary UCLA football coach Terry Donahue, allowed the couple to grow their company into a force in today’s orange chicken and shrimp fried rice game.
Says Peggy of her family’s humble beginning:
“We have an all-in mentality. Because we’re immigrants, we have a can-do attitude. We’re also very frugal. From 1983 to 2000, with every new store, we would take an established team to the new location to help open the store. Every team would live in one apartment for a month, and your supervisor might sleep in the same room as you rather than go to hotels. No one complained about not having privacy. It built team spirit.”