Sunday, January 4, 2004

Panda Express is expanding in key markets including the Washington area. The Chinese food restaurant chain plans to open 12 more locations in the Washington-Baltimore area within the next year, said John Mitchell, senior vice president of restaurant development.

It’s part of an aggressive company-expansion plan to add 160 new restaurants to the 600-unit chain in 2004. And that’s just the beginning. The Rosemead, Calif.-based chain plans to double in size within the next three years. Its long-term goal is to grow to 10,000 restaurants worldwide.

The company, which already has a dozen locations in this market, has finalized deals on two sites in Clinton and Catonsville, Md. Those restaurants will open in March or April.

Mr. Mitchell said the Greater Washington area can handle at least 40 Panda Express locations. Each restaurant has about 20 employees.

About half of the company’s restaurants are located in strip centers or on free-standing properties, while the rest are in malls, casinos, airports, stadiums and college campuses. Almost all of the restaurants are company-owned, not franchised.

Expanding his wings

John Atari, whose family owns Buffalo Wings Factory in Sterling and Ashburn, Va., is taking the concept and opening his own eatery.

Buffalo Wings University, slated to open in Fairfax in February, will offer buffalo wings made with the company’s “secret recipe,” but will also expand the menu to include more entrees.

“I’m changing it up a little, adding ribs, steaks and other entrees,” Mr. Atari said. “I want to give it some dinner flavor.”

The 6,000-square-foot, 186-seat, full-service restaurant will have 50 to 60 employees.

Mr. Atari has big plans for Buffalo Wings University. Within a year he wants to have another location in Northern Virginia. After that, “the sky’s the limit,” he said. Mr. Atari wants to open a chain of Buffalo Wings University restaurants over the next several years and expand beyond the Washington area.

More restaurant news

• Kinkead’s on Pennsylvania Avenue in Northwest has shut down temporarily for a nearly $1 million renovation. The 11,000-square-foot, 220-seat restaurant will be closed until mid-February to update and remodel the dining room areas and the kitchen.

Interior changes include new carpet, cherry booths accented with frosted glass and a redesigned exhibition kitchen that will give diners a behind-the-scenes look.

A new menu also will debut when the seafood restaurant reopens.

• Sales in the restaurant and food-service industry are expected to grow 4.4 percent this year to $440.1 billion, according to the National Restaurant Association’s 2004 forecast.

The industry, which includes all meals and snacks freshly prepared away from home, will have 878,000 locations and employ 12 million people in 2004.

• Washington’s Restaurant Week is returning Jan. 12-18. Participating eateries will offer three-course menus priced at $20.04 for lunch and $30.04 for dinner.

In the past, Restaurant Week promotions have given some establishments a boost of 15 percent to 200 percent in sales.

• Donna De Marco can be reached at 202/636-4884. Retail & Hospitality runs every other Monday.

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