ISLAND CITY — Do not be fooled by the empty dining tables, business at the new Panda Express restaurant in Island City is brisk.

The Chinese American fast food restaurant opened Friday, Oct. 29, with little fanfare, yet it had $16,000 in sales that day and business is remaining hot, said Jose Ayala, the location’s chef.

“The response of the community has been very heartening,” Ayala said.

Business is strong even though the restaurant’s opening was not advertised extensively.

“We have been busy even though we have taken people by surprise,” Ayala said.

Panda Express is off to an encouraging start even though it currently is operating a takeout-only business because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Customers can come inside to order and pick up meals but they cannot stay inside and eat at its dining tables. A second option is the restaurant’s drive-thru, which is proving at least as popular as its indoor service.

Ayala credits the popularity of Panda Express to the fresh vegetables that are an integral part of the chain’s entrees. The vegetables include broccoli, red bell peppers and mushrooms.

“All of our vegetables are fresh cut everyday,” he said.

The entrees available to customers include black pepper Angus steak, broccoli beef, Beijing beef, mushroom chicken, kung pao chicken, string bean chicken and honey walnut shrimp. Ayala said the restaurant’s most popular entrees during the first week have been the orange chicken, walnut shrimp and broccoli beef.

Ayala knows Panda Express well for he worked at locations in the Tri-Cities area of Washington for the past four years. He said there are few lulls when working for a Panda Express restaurant, which suits him well.

“I like the fast pace and intensity,” he said.

Ayala said that customer service is always a focus of the people working at Panda Express restaurants.

“Having great customer service is a priority,” he said. “It is our way of showing gratitude for coming.”

The restaurant’s walls provide customers with a glimpse of Chinese culture. For example, expressions like ‘Have you eaten yet?’ are displayed in Chinese with English translations under them.

Ancient Chinese proverbs are also displayed, including: “Make happy those who are near and those who are far will come.’’

Panda Express, 11617 Island Ave., operates in a 2,183-square-foot building constructed over the past year.

Founded in 1983, the chain has more than 2,100 locations nationwide, according to its website.

There are about 20 in Oregon, including restaurants in Hermiston, Ontario, Bend and Redmond.

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Dick Mason is a reporter with The Observer primarily covering the communities of North Powder, Imbler, Island City and Union, education, Union County veterans programs and local history. Dick joined The Observer in 1983, first working as a sports and outdoors reporter.{div id=”highlighter--hover-tools” style=”display: none;”} {/div}{div id=”highlighter--hover-tools” style=”display: none;”} {/div}{div id=”highlighter--hover-tools” style=”display: none;”} {/div}

General assignment reporter

Beats include the communities of North Powder, Imbler, Island City and Union, education, Union County veterans programs and local history. Dick joined The Observer in 1983, first working as a sports and outdoors reporter.

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