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P.F. Chang’s Opens World’s First ‘To-Go’ Restaurant Today in Chicago

Chicago EATER

The Chinese-American chain plans to open smaller locations in New York, Houston, Dallas, and Washington, D.C.

After closing the last of its Chicago bistros last month, P.F. Chang’s, the venerable 27-year-old Chinese-American chain, debuts the first in its new line of smaller restaurants that concentrate on carry out, delivery, and catering. P.F. Chang’s To Go opens Monday morning at 213 W. Hubbard Street in River North.

P.F. Chang’s plans to open 20 of these tinier to-go restaurants across the country with the next opening pegged for Manhattan, New York — where P.F. Chang’s has never had a restaurant, said Chris Demery, P.F. Chang’s senior vice president of off-premises dining. It’s a pivot for the chain, which counts more than 300 restaurants in 25 countries. At about 2,000 square feet, it’s a departure from the full-service model. Demery said real estate isn’t the driver behind the strategy. It’s more about keeping up with the consumer desire for convenience.

“I think it’s going to keep coming and coming and we just have to adjust to that desire — whether it’s retail goods like Amazon Prime, or food like P.F. Chang’s To Go,” Demery said.

The company initially planned to open the first to-go restaurant in Manhattan, but the usual red tape — leases and permits — set the stage for a Chicago debut instead. Later this year, P.F. Chang’s plans to open two more to-go restaurants in Chicago — at 231 S. LaSalle Street in the Loop, and at 185 N. Morgan Street in Fulton Market. The chain also plans to-go locations in Dallas, Houston, and Washington, D.C.

P.F. Chang’s continues to operate four full-service restaurants in Chicago’s suburbs (Lombard, Northbrook, Orland Park, Schaumburg). The company will continue to grow the bistro side of the business, Demery said, but won’t cannibalize the market by opening a full-service restaurant near a to-go location. As Chicago’s last full-service location closed in January, officials wanted to quickly open a to-go restaurant to serve the market’s customers. Demery wouldn’t close the door on opening a full-service restaurant in Chicago. P.F. Chang’s just needs to find the right space at the right price.

The to-go menu (see below) includes rice bowls and bento boxes with an entree, egg roll, or soup, and salad for lunch. It also offers Lettuce wraps and Chinese-American mainstays like Mongolian beef and sesame chicken. Customers can ask for items to be prepared without gluten.

In recent years, P.F. Chang’s has expanded the menu to sushi. This year it debuted Korean bulgogi and tonkotsu ramen. America’s appetite for Chinese food, in recent years, has plateaued as food from other Asian countries grows more popular, Demery said.

Third-party companies, like Grubhub, Postmates, and DoorDash, will deliver food in DeliverSafe bags. These sealable bags are designed to be tamper proof, to ensure orders stay hot and fresh. They’re also, supposedly, environmentally friendly. Occasionally, P.F. Chang’s own delivery people will take orders. There are no tables inside the storefront, and at 2,000 square feet, the Chicago restaurant is larger than the 1,400 to 1,500 square feet planned for other openings.

When P.F. Chang’s opened in 1993 in Arizona, founders Philip Chiang and prolific restaurateur Paul Fleming (Ruth’s Chris Steak House) brought Chinese-American food to the masses with smaller menus and an atmosphere that borrowed from America’s steakhouses. Chiang is the son of Cecilia Chiang, the San Francisco-based chef, who recently turned 100 years old. She’s one of America’s most successful restaurateurs.

While there are more Asian restaurants in America compared to 27 years ago, Demery — who previously worked for Domino’s Pizza — said P.F. Chang’s mission hasn’t changed much from when it started. Not every American has a chance to travel outside of the country for a taste of Asia. That’s something P.F. Chang’s wants to continue to provide, Demery said. Now customers have more ways to eat P.F. Chang’s food without visiting a restaurant.

Read the restaurant’s menu below. P.F. Chang’s To Go opens at 11 a.m. and will try to hook customers by giving away free lettuce wraps for a year to the first 100 who order online or in person.

P.F. Chang’s To Go, 213 W. Hubbard Street, (312) 766-9677, open 11 a.m. to 10 a.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

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