Since Panda Express opened its doors, the line of students gathered inside and sometimes outside the restaurant has garnered attention, but another Chinese restaurant on the same street, Panda Garden, quietly closed their doors last week.
Panda Garden, at 948 W. Grace St., used to be called Panda Veg, and was once exclusively vegan and vegetarian. After the name change about four years ago, they added meat to the menu, but kept their countless vegan and vegetarian options. Many Google reviewers claim that the restaurant declined in quality of food and service since the name change. One Google reviewer named Jamie Nicholas pointed out the decline in a review two years ago.
“When I first started going to Panda Veg (about six years ago), everything there was excellent, and I went out of my way to eat there. They had excellent food which was, at the time, exclusively vegetarian/vegan,” Nicholas wrote. “In the following years, though, and especially since their name has changed to Panda Garden, this establishment has taken a turn for the worse.”
Panda Garden is now completely empty, with the windows covered in paper and their website gone. Their phone number is disconnected.
Poor food quality may have been a big reason for Panda Garden’s closing, but some of the problem could have been the opening of Panda Express just down the street. Students with meal plans will often go to Panda Express because they offer swipes from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. every day.
Becca Berry, who has a meal plan, said she eats at Panda Express once or twice a week. She said she thinks that the opening of the restaurant may have had some effect on business at other Chinese restaurants on Grace Street, such as Panda Garden, but it depends on the restaurant.
“I think it depends,” Berry said. “If it’s a typical Chinese takeout restaurant, then yes, I think it’s hurting business, but I think that more traditional places will be fine. Things like pho are getting more and more mainstream and Panda Express can’t compete with that.”
Ben Haden, a student who recently stopped using a meal plan, agreed. He said that while many students use swipes because they are pre-paid, they don’t always eat on-campus.
“I mean, swipes are just convenient for a lot of people,” Haden said. “But some students will have (higher) standards of taste.”
While swipes are often a cheaper and more convenient way for students to eat in Richmond, Berry said this is not the case with Panda Express.
“I get annoyed because for two swipes, they’ll let you get the two-entree plate, like what you’d get at a normal Panda Express,” Berry said. “On the menu, it’s like $7.30. So on the meal plan, I’m basically paying $16 for something that should be $9, if you factor in the drink.”
Berry is on a scholarship, so her meal plan is paid for by the school, but other students who aren’t on scholarship may not be getting what they pay for by using swipes at Panda Express. She said the size of the meal you get for one swipe, which is one entreé option and a side of fried rice or chow mein, is “basically a snack.”
Considering the cost of a meal at other Asian restaurants on Grace Street, such as Saigon, Good Taste, Thai Top Ten and Mama’s Kitchen, Berry said it might be cheaper for students to go to those restaurants if they haven’t already paid for the meal plan.
“Yeah, it is cheaper to buy from another Chinese place,” Berry said. “The issue is that you’ve already bought the swipes, and in my situation you have to, and if you end up with extra swipes you’re wasting money anyway.”
While this can happen with all on-campus restaurants, Berry and Haden said it might be worth it to sometimes branch out from the meal plan. Even though Panda Garden is already closed, Haden said some of the other Asian restaurants on Grace Street, like Thai Top Ten, might be worth a try.