The Art Of Dynasty Building And Other Life Lessons

29 April 2019
Credit: Bruno Poletti
How PF Chang’s quietly conquered the world

Philip Chiang has just finished lunch. He’s smiling as he comes in from a post-meal walk on the beach at La Mer, home to one of Dubai’s nine PF Chang’s restaurants.

“Once I’m here it’s very exciting,” Chiang says. “I lived in California, you’ve got to fly a long way sometimes to get to the Middle East or Latin America. But I don’t do it as much now, I’m trying to slow down a little.”

The 72-year-old may be “semi-retired” after moving to Tokyo, but clearly gets a buzz from checking out the fruits of his businesses across 23 countries.

He admits this was the last thing on his mind when he started his first restaurant in California in 1993. “Even after five, there was no vision of us being global,” he says. “It was just [opening] one after another, but even America-wide didn’t seem possible.”

Things changed with the hire of a new CEO, Rick Federico, a veteran of the restaurant industry.

“After that it was like, ok this is big time,” says Chiang. “We’re going to take this company global and hit the stock market. That was about 1996, just three years after we had started.”

Initially known as PF Chang’s China Bistro, it became just PF Chang’s once it started to offer a pan-Asian menu. At the time, few Chinese outlets cared for décor, cocktails, music or ambience. Chiang’s management, providing a slick experience as well as top quality food, helped it thrive.

Having launched 26 years ago in the US, the brand went international 16 years later, in Mexico City and Kuwait. From Kuwait it was a short jump to Dubai. Now, PF Chang’s is celebrating its tenth anniversary in the Middle East by revamping its restaurants (of which no two around the world are the same, we’re assured) with new murals and furniture. Above all, they’ve added a dozen new items to their menu and delivered them with a side order of tech – just scan a “dynamic menu” with your phone to unlock videos that tell you about the brand and the secrets behind PF Chang’s success.

“We still have the core dishes that everybody loves. Dynamite shrimp, Mongolian beef, chicken lettuce wrap,” says Chiang. “We always introduce new things, new flavours and textures, and hopefully they catch on. But also, in keeping with the relaunch, we wanted to build a little excitement. New items are always a good way to go.”

Three Rules For Dynasty Building

1. Stay true to yourself
“To this day we follow the same process when preparing the food. We tweaked it, streamlined it and made it more efficient, but it has never really changed. We’ve never thought of not doing it this way.”

2. Keep things fresh
“Ours is one of the more difficult cuisines to produce at this level. It’s a lot easier to make a hamburger or a steak. But when I see what we do every day – with the ingredients – I think there’s no other way to do this right. This is how it has to be done.”

3. Base the whole thing on quality
“Everything has to be prepared by hand. We don’t use a chopping machine or anything like that, everything is hand cut with Chinese cleavers. It’s part of PF Chang’s culture now, and I don’t see it changing in the future.”