Update 10/17/2020: According to Panda Express’s reply to SixthTone via Twitter, the Panda Express in Kunming seems to be a fake store:

Recently, Chinese media found that a new Panda Express restaurant appeared on Dianping (China’s Yelp) as early as July 2020.

This fake Panda Express restaurant is located in a shopping mall in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province. According to the photos on Dianping.com, it uses the name of Panda Express and Logo.

Panda Express in Kunming via Anonymous reviewer

So far, there have been five review about the restaurant. In the question area, one of the questions is: “Is this the American Chinese food? Is there General Tso’s chicken here? Does it taste the same as in America? “

The fake Panda Express has a score of 3.57/5 on Dianping.com, which is lower among similar restaurants. The rental director of the mall said in an interview that the store was operated by an agency company from Shenzhen. The agency company presented the authorization document from Panda Express when signing the contract with the mall.

Panda Express is the most popular Chinese food chain outside China. Founded by Chinese-American Andrew Cherng in 1983, it focuses on “cheap Chinese food”. At present, there are 2200 stores in the worldwide.

However, large-scale modifications have been made in order to standardize Chinese food and promote in western market. Chinese people often do not recognize it as real Chinese food.

Andrew Cherng, founder of Panda Express, knows this, saying publicly that Panda Express will not enter the Chinese market because “the competition is too fierce in China. Panda Express is designed for foreign diners.”

In fact, P.F. Chang’s, a high-end American Chinese cuisine, opened a restaurant in Shanghai in 2018. But it was closed within a year because no one wanted to eat an unauthentic version of food in its place of origin.

According to Dianping.com,the fake Panda Express has maintained its brand positioning of low-cost fast food in China, with a per capita consumer price of about 15 yuan (about $2.23). And, judging from the food reviews that have emerged, it doesn’t use the American style Chinese food menu it sells around the world (no General Tso’s chicken, no Shanghai Angus steak). It looks like an ordinary local fast food restaurant.

One review said it sold “Chuan Chuan“, a simplified version of Chinese hot pot.

But that doesn’t mean Panda Express’s business in China is plain sailing. At the price of $3, Panda Express faces Shaxian snacks, a powerful local competitor. The fast-food chain, dominated by China’s Sha county government, has 30, 000 stores on Chinese mainland and has been popular for more than 20 years.

At present, this Kunming store seems to be the only Panda Express in China. In any case, the panda still has a long way to go home.