Philip Chiang - how to build a billion-dollar brand like PF Chang’s
- Philip Chiang co-founded PF Chang’s in 1993
- The Asian restaurant chain has since grown to 305 restaurants worldwide
- The brand recently celebrated a milestone ten-years in the Middle East
- In 2018, PF Chang’s generated more than US$900 million in revenue
PF Chang’s China Bistro was launched back in 1993 with one simple idea: to be the first restaurant in California to serve ‘authentic’ Chinese food.
Today, it has more than 305 branches around the world, making it the most successful Asian restaurant brand in history. But for Philip Chiang, the restaurant’s co-founder (and chef at the brand’s first restaurant) it was less about success and more about impressing his mum.
“I followed in her footsteps for sure,” says Chiang, “she became an icon in terms of Chinese dining in the United States because before she opened her restaurant, no one was serving real, traditional Asian food”. Indeed, Cecilia Chang opened up her restaurant The Mandarin in the 1960s in San Francisco, and after a year or two was playing host to hundreds of diners and stars such as John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
“At the time I was a budding art student, my mother opened up a second location near to where I lived in Los Angeles,” admits Chiang. “So I graduated, struggled practising as a graphic designer and then I got married. I needed a regular income – have you ever heard that phrase, ‘Art doesn’t put food on the table’ – it was certainly true for me.”
Chiang reluctantly asked his mother for a job, “I never wanted to work in a restaurant, I just needed a steady paycheck,” says Chiang, but soon he was the head chef of the second location. One evening a budding restaurateur walked through the door lamenting the fact he couldn’t find proper Asian food in his native Scottsdale, Arizona. Paul Flemming (who is the ‘PF’ in the chain’s moniker) made Philip Chiang a deal, and soon had restaurants across the United States. But they had bigger plans.
“We expanded outside the US ten years ago because we had so much brand recognition,” says Chiang. “People would travel to Florida or California or even Vegas on holiday or business, and they’d get to know our food. When we opened here in the Middle East ten years ago, for example, people said ‘we know PF Chang’s’ and the recognition was quick”.
Today, Chiang is semi-retired (“I am mainly a goodwill ambassador for the company now”) and lives between Tokyo and his native California. He still sees his mum (who is still going strong at the age of 99), and who was recently honoured with her own Amazon documentary, Soul of a Banquet. Considering Chiang’s network of restaurants generated almost US$1 billion in revenue last year, we imagine a mother that wouldn’t be impressed by that.