Smells of far East-inspired cuisine wafted through the air Wednesday near Southern Arkansas University’s Village Apartment complex, as the now fully operational Panda Express Chinese Kitchen opened its doors to the public. The move also came in conjunction with the first day spring semester classes at SAU.
The restaurant is located at the clubhouse of the apartment complex, near the east end of campus. It is fully accessible and open not only to students, but the public as well. An access gate from E. University Street was opened for the first time Wednesday for regular traffic access. The marking is highlighted by a Panda Express logo sign and a green-painted steel gate.
Drivers when entering should look for a left lane that leads directly to the clubhouse at the top of the hill. Parking is also designated at the front entrance of the restaurant and marked with a large Panda Express sign.
The hours of operation at the restaurant are 10:45 a.m.-9 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 10:45 a.m.-8 p.m. on Saturday. The location is closed on Sundays.
By 11 a.m. Wednesday, lines were already out the door.
The project was announced in July 2017, but the doors finally opened this week. There were many hurdles to overcome in bringing Panda to SAU, but the administration was fueled by student polling that indicated a preference for on-campus Asian dining.
“SAU is excited to be bringing something to our campus, not only for our students but for the community,” Dr. Trey Berry, president of SAU, said. “We think this new addition will bring variety to our food services, but also a national chain to Magnolia.”
Alain Verbeiren, Aramark’s food services director at SAU, said Panda will offer students as well as the Magnolia community an affordable dining option and quality food. It will serve the full menu of American Chinese cuisine. Entrees include Orange Chicken, Kung Pao Chicken, Broccoli Beef, Shanghai Angus Steak, and Honey Walnut Shrimp. Side items include chow mein, fried rice, mixed vegetables, and white-and-brown steamed rice.
He said the food Panda offers is a great value because it is “really fresh, tastes great, and for a great price” and that it will be “consistent in quality and hospitality” with other on-campus offerings such as Chick-fil-A and Subway.
A 1,185 square feet portion of the clubhouse was renovated for the restaurant and seating is available for more than 20. Tables are also set up directly outside of the restaurant in the clubhouse.
“This new dining option has many benefits, from relieving the pressure on our Blue and Gold Cafeteria in the Reynolds Center to offering more options,” said Dr. Donna Allen, vice president for student affairs. “Also, the clubhouse is a nice facility and has been underutilized. We are replacing the convenience store there, which was not viable, with what we know will be a popular dining option.”