Restaurant Development & Design

FALL 2014

restaurant development + design is a user-driven resource for restaurant professionals charged with building new locations and remodeling existing units.

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1 8 • R E S T A U R A N T D E V E L O P M E N T + D E S I G N • F A L L 2 0 1 4 Peer to Peer Q&A with Tabassum Zalotrawala Vice President of Restaurant Development Panda Restaurant Group I n her frst job out of college, for an interior design frm in Muscat, Oman, Tabassum Zalotrawala worked on ultra-high-end projects in the Middle East, including the Grand Mosque and guest palaces of Sultan Qaboos. Trained as an architect and interior designer and fuent in four languages, she later moved to the United States to pursue an MBA in International Business at Emory Univer- sity's Goizueta Business School. Since then Zalotrawala has found her niche in the chain restaurant industry, beginning at Arby's, where she became senior direc- tor of store planning. Three years ago, Zalotrawala joined Los Angeles-based Panda Restaurant Group (PRG), parent company of the fast-growing, 1,700-plus- unit QSR brand Panda Express, as well as the smaller Panda Inn and Hibachi-San Japanese Grill concepts. rd+d: Describe your role at PRG and the company's development priorities. TZ: I oversee four development func- tions, including architecture and design, construction, facilities and strategic sourcing. It's really a fantastic time to be at Panda because of the tremendous growth and development the company is experiencing. We're building about 120 Panda Express stores in 2014 and will do the same, if not more, in 2015. We're also remodeling our facilities at a very aggressive pace — around 100 stores this year. We're growing fast and elevat- ing the brand at the same time to draw more guests in, which is really exciting. rd+d: The Panda Express remodel initiative is part of PRG's 2020 vision to nurture "guest love." What's that about? TZ: Every department is focused on generating guest love by serving food with passion and ambiance with pride. On the development side, the aspect that we can really touch is ambiance with pride by elevating the look and feel of our stores. One of our priorities this year and next is to continually evolve the new prototype that we introduced two years ago. Panda Express is a 31-year-old concept and, while our facilities aren't in poor shape, we're proactively updat- ing our brand image and enhancing the experience for guests. So while there's a tremendous amount of growth right now, we're also ensuring that we are evaluat- ing strategies with which we can increase our same-store transactions and sales. It's a three-pronged approach of elevat- ing our ambiance, elevating our food options, and elevating our service. rd+d: How does the new Panda Express Innovation Kitchen concept store factor into the quest for guest love? TZ: It's a prime example of how we're constantly looking to live our 2020 vision. It's all about innovation and fnding ways to get better and become loved by our guests. For example, in the Innovation Kitchen we're testing a new specialty tea bar as well as new menu items such as scallion pancake wraps and salads that guests can customize. The Innovation Kitchen is a place where we can test great ideas both for food and ambiance, execute them well, fgure out what really works and then roll them out throughout our portfolio, all with the idea of creating more guest love and ulti- mately more sales and transactions. One of the great things about Panda is that BY DANA TANYERI, Editor-in-Chief

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