It’s hard to miss: a twelve-foot-high statue spelling out the word LOVE in vibrant red letters. The multimillion-dollar Robert Indiana sculpture, privately donated by Panda Restaurant Group owners Andrew and Peggy Cherng in 2018, graces a fountain at the entrance of the Panda Restaurant Group Support Center in Rosemead, California. In many ways, this art installation at the company’s headquarters physically embodies Panda Restaurant Group’s culture, characterized by a family feel and a holistic approach to people development. Love—love as a verb, an active, striving love rooted in trust, respect, and pushing all employees to be the best versions of themselves—is the common language at Panda.
“We’re forty thousand people and yet we all feel like Andrew and Peggy are our parents,” says Jaye Young, vice president and legal counsel of Cherng Family Trust, the family office for Panda Restaurant Group. “That’s honestly probably the biggest thing that keeps people here—for decades, in many cases. You want to do well for your family, right? You want to make sure that everybody in your family is supported. We’re all doing our best. We’re not perfect, but we’re all working in the same direction, which is to ‘make happy happen’ for ourselves, our associates, our families, our communities.”
From Saturday morning learning sessions where associates present from inspiring books that the entire company reads to sponsoring an in-house Toastmasters club, the company prioritizes ongoing learning and personal and professional development opportunities for its employees. “Everybody here is a leader,” Young remarks. Operating on the premise that its people are invaluable assets, Panda offers competitive pay and benefits. In keeping with its mission to “inspire better lives,” the company also encourages employees to attain financial security, buy a house, reframe their personal narratives to help them embrace a positive mindset, and support each other as both colleagues and human beings.
“We’re very big on the whole person paradigm, which is encompasses physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional health,” Young explains. “We seek to inspire people to live up to their full potential and achieve their highest possibilities.”
Now boasting more than two thousand locations spread across the world, a workforce comprising approximately forty thousand associates and about five hundred people in its corporate office, the popular Chinese American restaurant chain has experienced explosive growth since its founding in 1973. And as Panda continues to grow, neither the company nor its people are content to rest on their laurels.
“Never best. Always better,” Young says, quoting one of the company’s mantras. “We are in constant search of excellence in everything we do.”
A lifelong overachiever, Young is no stranger to the pursuit of excellence. She grew up in Jamaica, raised by a “very strict” Jamaican father and a “very sweet and loving” mother who set high expectations but ultimately let her make her own choices, caring for and advising her at every turn in her personal and professional journey. Following her graduation from high school at the age of fifteen, she skipped her freshman year at Rollins College in Florida, completing the three-year honors program at eighteen with a degree in economics. By age twenty-one, she had earned her JD from Stanford Law School.
After finishing law school, Young continued to excel. Over the next thirty-five years, she built a thriving career as a real estate attorney. Initially, she honed her skills and accumulated a wealth of experience in increasingly complex roles at firms including Katten Muchin Rosenman, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, and Skadden Arps. Then she branched out on her own, spending more than two decades in private practice.
Young first started working with Panda Restaurant Group when she was still in business for herself. She took on a temporary assignment for the company when Panda was experimenting with its first “street store—a freestanding Panda Express restaurant, rather than a storefront located inside a mall. Over time, she took on more and more work for the operating arm and the development/investment arm of the company. In 2011, she went in-house for the Cherng Family Trust, a multibillion-dollar family office that serves as the investment firm for founders Andrew and Peggy Cherng.
“Every single experience that I’ve had has been additive and has given me the basis to be well rounded for this particular role—to help with all of the different types of deals that we do,” Young says. She recounts how she gained expertise in leasing and acquisitions at her first law firm in New York City; represented lenders and developers in financing deals at Sheppard; and managed higher-level acquisition, leasing, financing, and real estate development deals at Skadden.
Currently, Young supervises two lawyers and two paralegals in the legal department at the Cherng Family Trust. “We’re definitely hoping to find good people, always, who believe in the mission and the values that Panda embodies every day: to be a world leader in people development and to become loved by our guests,” Young says. The company carefully screens prospective employees for their alignment with the company’s culture and core values, taking an average of six months to hire someone new.
“I feel like I have the best job in the world,” Young enthuses. “I’m in the perfect place because I work with wonderful people and on exciting deals. The Cherngs are the salt of the earth. They are warm, they are loving, they are loyal, they are incredibly smart, but just so humble and down to earth that it is an absolute honor and pleasure to serve them and their family.”
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld:
“As outside counsel, we have worked with Jaye on several projects. She is thoughtful, meticulous, and a wonderful steward of her client’s resources and interests, and she makes working together a truly enjoyable experience.”
–Terrence Allen, Partner
Seyfarth Shaw LLP:
“Jaye and Panda Restaurant Group are valued partners. With Jaye’s significant expertise and insight, she makes even the most challenging deals a success.”
–Robert Milligan, Jim Clough, Partners