Genaro Perez, P.F. Chang’s Vice President of Global Marketing, talks to BelleBeirut about the restaurants’ history and presence in Lebanon
1- How would you introduce P.F Chang’s to the Lebanese people?
P.F. Chang’s is an Asian-American restaurant; we really say that we are America’s number 1 Asian bistrot. We currently have over 270 restaurants in 20 countries around the world, of which 3 are in Beirut. P.F. Chang’s was founded 22 years ago in Scottsdale, Arizona by Philip Chang and Paul Flemming. It started as a Chinese restaurant because back in the day, people were only familiar with the typical Cantonese saucy food. But Philip Chang was actually innovative and was inspired by the traditional food his mother used to make in the 1960’s to create new cleaner and simpler dishes. Everything you see in a P.F. Chang’s dish is supposed to be eaten; nothing is there for decoration. Our food is definitely Asian inspired, our food is fresh; nothing is pre-made, nothing is done until you come to the restaurant and order. We have food from different regions of south-east Asia like Thailand, Vietnam and Korea… and of course China.
2- How is P.F. Chang’s doing in Lebanon?
We have been very blessed in the Middle-East region. We started expanding internationally into Mexico in 2009, then immediately after to Kuwait. Following those two countries, we started expanding into other regions around the world. The first P.F. Chang’s in Lebanon opened in 2012 in ABC Ashrafieh. The second one was in Beirut City Center in 2013, and we’re now opening in 2015 in Zaytounay Bay. We have plans to open at least 3 more branches in Lebanon, maybe even out of Beirut. So far, the consumers really like the brand. We are really proud of the food we serve, and the service we provide (which is very American by the way). It’s a personalized and friendly service. We also have a great ambiance with nice music. So it’s the combination of food, ambiance and service that makes the experience so consistent.
3- What sets P.F. Chang’s menu apart from other Asian restaurants in Lebanon?
We do not really consider other traditional Asian/Chinese restaurants as our competition, because we do things differently. For starters, at P.F. Chang’s we always serve fresh food. Lebanese consumers appreciate that, because Lebanese food is always fresh. We don’t cut corners in that; we spend a lot of hours in the mornings and afternoons preparing to serve consumers as best we can. Our food in general is also a bit more innovative and contemporary. Most of our dishes have three ingredients at the most, we do not use any MSG, and we have an extensive menu of vegetarian and gluten free food. Usually, Asian restaurants are not nice and comfortable; this does not apply to us.
4- What can you tell us about food safety at P.F. Chang’s?
Before coming to a new market, we send our team to make sure we understand what is available in the market. We try to source ingredients as much as we can locally, because that is not only easy for us, but good for the Economy. But, whenever we do not find the quality or the needed ingredients we import them from somewhere else. You will not find a product that is not up to our standard at P.F. Chang’s. We also have an extensive internal and external audit programs. Our kitchens are enormous that are constantly monitored by our auditors, and different teams. We’re also working hand in hand with our partners around the world.
5- How do you train your staff to make them part of the P.F. Chang’s team?
Each P.F. Chang’s restaurant employs about 100 people. So for example, when we first opened in Beirut, the team that was in charge had to go and train for three months in the United States. They shadowed a P.F. Chang’s employee to really understand our culture and our work. They then came back and hired their staff and passed on their knowledge. Our partners here in Lebanon also handle the business in Turkey. We also have trainers from other branches in different countries that regularly come by to train the new staff.
6- What changed in P.F. Chang’s since it was founded in 1993 in Arizona?
I think a lot and nothing. The menu is probably about 70-80% consistent to the initial menu. The favorite items, like the chicken lettuce wrap, Mongolian beef, were sold in the first restaurant in 1993. The other 20-30% is the Asian-inspired food that we brought to the brand. Even though we have 270 branches around the world, the restaurants are not the same. The design is evolving constantly. When we opened our first international location in Mexico five years ago, it was different than what we are opening nowadays in countries like Lebanon. We’re always evolving the brand.
7- What items would you recommend for someone visiting P.F. Chang’s for the first time?
Our food is meant to be shared. People should come with their friends, families or colleagues. We usually say you should order something for the earth, something for the sky, something from the ocean and something new. Always ask members of our team if you do not know what to order, they will recommend something delicious and new!