Panda Express founders Andrew & Peggy Cherng buy their next door neighbor’s house in South Pasadena

Today is Independence Day here in the States, so naturally Yolanda wanted to write a story with some sort of patriotic theme or tie-in. But although we racked and racked our little brains, we just couldn’t think of anything. Finally, however, we stumbled across the perfect story! After all, few things — other than baseball, apple pie and maybe an IROC-Z or two — are more integral to our culture than Chinese fast food. Right?

South Pasadena is a small LA suburb known for its quaint atmosphere and lovely historic homes. It also sports several streets lined with grand mansions, the lovely 1920s and 1930s type y’all might find in certain pockets of the Beverly Hills Flats. Yet the vibe there is significantly different than over in the 90210 — the money is older and the homeowners significantly less flashy with their wealth. And folks out yonder tend to stay in their homes for decades — and often for generations.

Take today’s house. Located on what is arguably South Pasadena’s best street — it’s only a block east of the even more expensive town of San Marino — the stately 1927 Monterey Colonial recently came to market for the first time in nearly 30 years. And it seems there was some minor fighting over the property. Records reveal that the new owner paid $5,100,000 to acquire the deed — $115,000 more than the initial asking price.

The sellers of the house were a woman named Wendy Munger and her longtime hubby Leonard Gumport. Our Mr. Gumport is a prominent Downtown LA-based attorney and Ms. Munger is the daughter of billionaire Charlie Munger, the 94-year-old fella best known as Warren Buffett’s business partner/right hand man of many years.

As for the buyers, they didn’t even have to hop in their luxury vehicles to check this place out — turns out they live next door. It’s the Cherng family, those multi-billionaire folks famous for founding (and owning) Panda Express.

Mr. & Mrs. Cherng

Andrew & Peggy Cherng are both immigrants — he was born and raised in Mainland China, she was born in Burma and grew up in Hong Kong. The couple came to the United States as teenagers in the 1960s to attend Baker University in Kansas. It was there, so the stories go, where they initially met. Although Mr. Cherng would go on to earn his Bachelor’s from Baker, Mrs. Cherng transferred after just one year to Oregon State University. Still, love conquers all distances (or something like that) so the Cherngs eventually reunited, married, and soon settled in LA.

In 1973, our Mr. Cherng opened the very first Panda Inn in Pasadena (45 years later, that original restaurant still stands). Times were tough for the first few years. But then Mrs. Cherng and her systems savviness joined the business in 1982, and the couple opened the first Panda Express in the bustling Glendale Galleria. Soon the fast food (or fast casual, as the Cherngs would prefer you call them) eateries were popping up over the country. And then overseas, too.

Today, Panda has more than 2,000 locations worldwide, nearly 30,000 employees, and generates more than $2 billion in revenue per year. Those eye-popping stats make it easily the largest Chinese fast food/casual chain in the world. Yet the Cherngs have resisted franchising or going public, making them an outlier amongst their competitors. The family still owns and manages all their locations.

The key ingredients to an empire

According to Forbes, the Cherngs are worth $3.2 billion, making the pair two of the wealthiest peeps in all of LA. Yolanda wonders how much of that moolah has come from our own pocket — we have a serious addiction to that tangy orange chicken, although we’ve attempted to reign it in recently. To little avail, of course. But we digress.

The heavily wooded lot is laced with mature oak trees that effectively shield the unassuming Monterey Colonial home from the roadway out front. A long driveway leads past formal lawns and deep into the generous 1.12-acre property. Records indicate the house has 6 beds and 5.5 baths in a family-friendly (but not huge) 5,282-square-feet of living space.

Indoors, the prim and proper structure features lustrous hardwood floors throughout. A fireplace-equipped living room opens to brick patios via French doors, and the kitchen has updated appliances and an island with subway tile countertops. Oh, and two roosters! (Or is one a hen? We can’t tell.)

Off the kitchen is a smallish dining table area, but there is also a real formal dining room accessed via the butler’s pantry.

Somewhere there’s also a library. Meanwhile, the master bedroom (at least Yolanda thinks that is the master?) is not nearly as big as y’all might expect. But remember kiddies, this house was built in 1927. Back then, folks — even rich folks — didn’t usually see a need for master suites the size of the Titanic. My, how times have changed.

Of course, rich folks back then did love their sunrooms. And this classy ol’ gurl has one indeed — a real nice brick-floored number that overlooks the exquisite backyard gardens and such. The setting is beautiful. Truly. Oh, and tucked far into the backyard — well away from the house so the servants won’t catch sight of the owners skinny dippin’ — is the home’s dark-bottom swimming pool.

Anyway. To be honest, y’all, Yolanda is totally unsure about what the Cherngs’ plans are for their newest residential real estate acquisition. Maybe they intend to use it as a guest house, or perhaps it was bought by/for one of their three adult daughters, all of whom are professionally involved with the family business in one way or another.

What we do know is that for at least 25 years (and perhaps longer), the Cherngs have lived immediately next door to their new pad. And just like said pad, their main residence was built in the 1920s — 1929, to be precise. Unlike the new place, however, their tennis court estate is massive. Public records say it weighs in with 14,547-square-feet of living space, and Yolanda is quite certain that makes it the largest house in the entire city of South Pasadena.

The 3+ acre Cherng family estate

Yolanda’s research reveals that the Cherng family mansion was built by prominent architect Roland E. Coate in a Spanish Revival-cum-Angle-Colonial style and “is immersed in foliage“, meaning the Cherngs basically live on two acres of forest.

Like most billionaires, the Cherngs also keep vacation residences. Alhough they are growing their main compound at home in South Pasadena, the Cherngs are also expanding their real estate holdings over in Hawaii, long their getaway destination of choice. And we ain’t just talking about new Panda locations.

Back in 2015, Mr. & Mrs. Cherng coughed up $15,200,000 in an off-market deal for an oceanfront home on Hawaii’s fabulously expensive Kahala Avenue. According to reports at the time, the Cherngs planned to raze the existing home and rebuild — and what they envisioned was a grand mega-mansion, no doubt.

But wait, there’s more. In 2016, the Cherngs paid a total of $7.4 million for six units at a high-rise Honolulu condo building. And in the following year — 2017 — the couple plunked down nearly $14 million for a penthouse in the slick new Waiea condo building, also located in Honolulu. All told, the family has spent nearly $40 million on luxury Hawaii real estate over the past three years.

Waiea Tower in Hawaii, where the Cherngs own a $14 million penthouse

Wowzers. That’s a lot of money! Looks as though the Cherngs believe too much of a good thing is simply perfect. (And really, what’s a more all-American philosophy than that?)

Listing agents: Cathy Tyner, Deasy/Penner Partners
The Cherngs’ agent: Jonathan Williamson, Deasy/Penner Partners

CategoriesPower Players

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