Thursday May 28, 2009
P.F. Chang's China Bistro, whose two restaurant chains - P.F. Chang's and Pei Wei Asian Diner - are staples of upscale malls and mixed-use developments, said that same-store sales fell a bit but profits produced at its 350 outlets rose 38 percent from the first quarter of 2008. Operating margins - the holy grail of any business - at P.F. Chang's 190 stores rose from 12.8 percent to 14 percent, largely because of "incremental operational improvement opportunities. The stock has doubled since November."
What accounts for the sizzle in P.F. Chang's wok? Probably not the food. Just as saxophonist Kenny G provides jazz for people who don't really like authentic jazz, P.F. Chang's peddles Chinese food to diners who might not cotton to authentic Sichuan fare. Waiters don't wheel around carts laden with steamed chicken feet as they do at dim sum parlors in New York and San Francisco. In the comfy confines of Boston's Prudential Center, I was presented with a raft of desserts as American as, well, apple pie, including the Great Wall of Chocolate. "It's like The Cheesecake Factory, only ethnic," says Jennifer 8. Lee, author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food. "It's very consciously designed to cultivate an appeal to mainstream America." The "P.F." stands for company founder Paul Fleming, and the kitchen features ingredients that wouldn't be found in Chinese restaurants, such as chocolate, cheese, and melon balls. (Try picking up fruity spheroids with chopsticks.)
P.F. Chang's rode the trading-up boom of this past decade, opening stores in tony malls and economic hot zones and becoming the first Chinese-food chain to reach $1 billion in revenue. But the days when you could simply open the doors and welcome consumers armed with credit cards and cash from mortgage refinancings are over.