Restaurant packed on first day at its 2401 E. Portland Road location in Newberg

GARY ALLEN - Business was brisk when Panda Express opened its doors on Portland Road last week. The business closed briefly on Friday due to a gas leak.

Panda Express opened its doors April 20 at 2401 E. Portland Road in Newberg.

The Newberg location is one of more than 2,000 restaurants the chain operates in the United States and internationally. The entire chain owned by Andrew Cherng, based out of Glendale, Calif.

"This (restaurant) is one of our newer concepts," general manager Sandra Ramirez said. "The other store that is nearby, our Cornelius Pass (location), is very similar to this one. This location is more earth tones and the other locations are very bright with purples, reds and greens."

It took three months to build the restaurant on the busy corner of Highway 99W and Elliot Road and is the only drive-thru in the area.

The one in McMinnville is an end-cap, while this one is free standing, meaning that there are no attached businesses.

The first week was a big hit for the local Panda Express with $13,400 in sales on opening day. The employees trained at the Sherwood store for six weeks prior to the Newberg store opening.

"We had about 15 associates that were already hired and trained," Ramirez said. "Then we started hiring more people that applied to the Newberg location and we assigned them to one person that was working at Panda prior, like a buddy system."

The drive-thru was the tricky part because there is not a drive-thru in Sherwood to provide training. As a result, the employees were in training during the opening.

"We had managers that are trained on drive-thru; they were the ones that were running the drive-thru the first week while training," she said.

Their business model encourages growth and promotions for its employees. Ramirez first started working at Panda Express at the age of 17 and has been working there for five years.

She started at a Hillsboro location as a cashier and server. A year later she was promoted to shift lead, which is a supervisory role.

Eighteen months later she was promoted to an assistant manager and helped open a store in Forest Grove, then was moved to Sherwood and nine months later she was promoted to general manager in Newberg.

"It is like family. I went to the east coast to help open a Panda Express over there as an assistant manager and came back wanting more," she said. "We have a lot of support from different areas in Oregon, just helping each other out and learning from other people. For example, we have people coming from Vancouver to support us here and everyone gets along really well."

Ramirez said she is happy to be at the new store in Newberg and excited to help it get on its feet.

"I really like the community; everybody is very friendly," she said. "The support that we received from everybody was amazing that first day. Everyone was outgoing, nice and friendly. We are all excited."

The store's hours are from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on a trial basis and may change depending on sales volume.

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