Top Workplaces 2019: Panda Restaurant Group, where each employee matters

In the ultra-competitive world of fast-food chains, Panda Restaurant Group has emerged a winner.

The Rosemead-based company — which includes Panda Express, Panda Inn and Hibachi San — has grown to the nation’s largest Asian restaurant chain with 2,167 Panda Express, four Panda Inns and 18 Habachi San eateries for a combined 2,200 restaurants.

The company has faced challenges in the form of lawsuits alleging wage and hour discrimination, workplace safety and employment discrimination, but Panda says it places a strong emphasis on programs that promote and support employees.

This is the fifth consecutive year Panda has landed in the Top Workplaces program. Employees in the survey called the work fun and challenging, noting that “everyone is treated equally and it doesn’t have to be serious all the time. It feels like a family.”

The company answered the Register’s questions via email. They have been edited for clarity and length.

Q: Why do you think your company has done so well?

A: We are so grateful for the successes we’ve had, and we believe they are due to the strong values our founders, Andrew and Peggy Cherng, have built Panda Restaurant Group on. With a company that is purpose-led and values-driven, you create a culture that fosters a sense of belonging and family. We truly are vested in the growth of our associate, both personally and professionally, and strive to help them achieve their goals.

Additionally, we have a Panda Associate Assistance Fund that allows fellow associates to aid one another in times of need. For example, when Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Panda Express provided payroll advances along with other necessities to associates who were out of work due to the storm thanks to funds raised by our associates. This is just one of the many examples of kindness and togetherness we are fortunate enough to see at Panda every day. Our company succeeds when our people succeed.

Q: How do you stay ahead of the competition?

A: At PRG, we strive for an environment where continuous learning, a healthy lifestyle and respect for others are emphasized and acknowledged. To achieve this, we offer not only competitive benefits and compensation but also opportunities for our associates to grow. Whether employees participate in leadership and functional skill classes at University of Panda or take part in our Learning Benefit Program, which allows them up to $2,500 in college tuition assistance, we aim to provide our associates with the tools they need to achieve success.

Additionally, we believe in a “whole person” approach to health which entails physical, mental and emotional well-being and we provide associates access to competitive benefits that support all three. We are dedicated to constantly evolving our benefits program to best support our growing family of associates.


There are currently 2,167 Panda Express locations. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

Q: What are some of the things the company does to benefit employees?

A: Aside from the competitive benefits such as pay and paid time off, PRG carries its philosophy of giving over to its associates. Panda Cares, Panda Express’ philanthropic arm that is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, not only focuses on giving back to the communities in which it serves, but also giving back to its employees in times of need such as natural disasters or illness. Our strong commitment to our Panda family is an invaluable trait that differentiates PRG from other workplaces.

Q: Can you talk about how leadership plays a role in keeping staff engaged and part of the overall process?

A: We look to our leaders to set the tone in creating an environment where associates’ voices are heard, and they are inspired to create a better life for themselves and to inspire others to do the same. They are able to do this as our leaders have had the chance to move through the ranks themselves and experience all aspects of the job.

Panda Express continuously promotes from within, with the internal promotion rate from hourly to management positions being 70 percent while multi-unit managers and above are 100 percent internally promoted, including operation leaders. It is because of these opportunities that our leaders are able to set the tone and keep associates engaged and excited about their futures.

Q: How have rising minimum wage requirements in various states and cities affected your company?

A: We are committed to the personal development of our associates and it is our priority is to take care of our people. PRG offers a great career path, so we feel it’s important to invest in our employees and because of this, we offer above minimum wage in most of our regions.

2 Panda Restaurant Group

Founded: 1973

Industry: Restaurant chain

Headquarters: Rosemead

OC locations: 57

OC employees: 764

Years named a Top Workplace: 5

Website: pandarg.com

Quote: “Our strong commitment to our Panda family is an invaluable trait that differentiates PRG from other workplaces.” — The executive team at Panda Restaurant Group

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Why Disneyland will have plant-based offerings at table and quick service restaurant by spring 2020

At a table set with linen napkins, sparkling stemware and place cards the menu reads, “Dinner in The Wine Country.” The evening begins with a bountiful bread basket and continues with a four-course tasting menu paired with California wines.

It’s everything a diner might expect from Napa Rose at the Grand Californian in the Disneyland Resort: pressed watermelon salad with black garlic vinaigrette, paella, Chocolate Bliss cake and the granddaddy of all California chardonnays — Chateau Montelena.

But that’s not the stunner.

All the items served, including a parade of appetizers from Disneyland, Disney California Adventure and the resort’s banquet menu, are entirely plant-based.

And here’s the real wow, it’s not just for upscale diners with special dietary needs. A new food and beverage program with choices for those who eschew meat, dairy, eggs and honey will roll out on Oct. 1 (major quick service eateries) and Oct. 3 (table service restaurants) at Walt Disney World Resort. It’s coming in spring 2020 to the Disneyland Resort where there are 26 table service and 112 quick service restaurants as well as 23 nightclubs, lounges and outdoor bars.

“We do a lot of work to bring more flavor, innovation and creativity to our menus; our menus change all the time. And one of the key things that drives that is the feedback from the guests,” said Cheryl Dolven, a manager in Health & Wellness, Food & Beverage at Walt Disney World Resort, addressing guests at the  dinner on Sept. 17. “Our guests have enthusiastically embraced all the plant-based dishes that we have across property today. And it’s really inspired us to add even more.”

It’s a sea change from the days when a trip to America’s favorite amusement parks meant hot dogs and ice cream. Walt Disney himself had simple tastes. He loved cold wieners, chili and fried chicken. But the Slow Food movement has turned into the age of the foodie and the alterna-eater. With vegetarian and vegan diners proliferating, Disney has taken notice and taken it to heart.

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For a few years now the company has been developing recipes from coast to coast, some headed up by Dolven, a registered dietician, and Gary Jones, a Disney culinary dietary specialist, in the 7,000-square-foot Flavor Lab on a back lot at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla. But it’s really a massive team effort as chefs and food and beverage experts in the parks, hotels and restaurants have educated themselves and experimented. Now they’re ready to dish up the results.

Disney has pledged that one or more “plant-based” items will appear on the menus of all table service and all major quick service restaurants throughout the parks. Those items will be tagged with a green leaf icon and a description saying that those dishes are prepared “without animal meat, dairy, eggs or honey. “

With this designation Disney is pushing beyond meatless and even beyond vegetarian into the realm of veganism. But that term will not be used. These dishes, prepared with fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and popular name-brand meat substitutes will merely be labeled “plant-based.”

“Our guests are going to be able to choose from literally hundreds of fun, flavorful, satisfying, plant-based dishes,” Dolven said.

Hold the carousel horses.

How did this wonderland of indulgence, brimming with chocolate-coated Mickey-shaped macarons, ginormous turkey legs and deep-fried, powdered-sugar dusted Monte Cristo sandwiches trek into the broccoli forest?

It wasn’t as difficult as you might imagine, says John State, Culinary Director of the Disneyland Resort. “Disneyland, for the longest time, really clung to the tradition of what we were known for,” he said. “But a few years ago we started changing things and guests were like, ‘This is great, keep going.’ And there wasn’t any moment where we felt like we jumped the shark. Our guests are very diverse now. They’re not all looking for the corn dog.”

He’s right. Early this year People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals pronounced Disneyland America’s “Most Vegan-Friendly Amusement Park.”

So how do you get chefs trained in culinary schools that teach classic French recipes loaded with red meat, butter, eggs and cream on board?

“They really put their arms around this and, and I think one of the reasons why is because it was a new challenge,” Dolven said.

Chefs are creative types and they jumped at the chance to shine, State said. Field trips to farms, newsletters filled with information about what top chefs in big cities were up to and expos that brought in vendors helped.

“The expo that we hosted here was excellent. It was a great eye-opener to bring in 15 different vendors, suppliers and producers of plant-based ingredients,” State said.

Chefs are actually fired up. “I love tempeh,” said Ralph Stuhlmueller, chef de cuisine, Disneyland banquets. “You can do so much with it. It marinates and soaks up flavors really well. It’s got a little more flavor than tofu and I like the texture.”

At the opening reception he presented a dish of chili glazed tempeh stuffed into tender leaves of Little Gem lettuce with jewel-like citrus sections that added arresting pops of tartness. “They also serve a dish quite like this here, at the Craftsman Bar, with marinated tuna. This would be a plant-based kind of alternative,” he said.

Such dishes are already gaining traction in the parks. At Lamplight Lounge, potato flautas are a best seller at brunch. During a media preview at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the Felucian Garden Spread was a hit, even with meat eaters. A plant-based kefta-style meatball provides a salty, beefy protein which contrasts with creamy hummus. It’s served in warm pita bread with a refreshing tomato-cucumber relish.

State says it has soared like the Millennium Falcon. “It’s really a dish that’s taken off quite well over there,” he said.

The tweaking, tuning and inventing continues as chefs bring hundreds of dishes to life. Some are already here. Rongo Salad at Tangaroa Terrace Tropical Bar & Grill at the Disneyland Hotel brings together tender chunks of tofu, green papaya strips, cherry tomatoes, edamame, gooseberries and togarashi, a Japanese spice blend, in a zippy miso vinaigrette. The Cauliflower Sandwich, at Red Rose Taverne in Disneyland, stars a bronzed cauliflower “steak” on artisan bread with oven-dried tomato and chili-lime aioli.

Others are arriving soon. Mushroom Lobster-Style Salad lands at Coral Reef Restaurant at Epcot on Oct. 3. A Hot Link Smokehouse Sandwich will be served at the Flame Tree Barbecue in Disney’s Animal Kingdom beginning on Oct. 1.

That’s not to say that ice cream and turkey legs will be going away. But for now, don’t expect to see a leaf on a churro stand. Yet, it’s in the works.

“In the outdoor vending and the carts and the kiosks, guests should certainly look for the leaf because there  will be plenty of options,” said Dolven.

“There’s no boundary we’re not going to explore,” said State. “Think about it. You’re walking with your friend. Your friend says, ‘I only eat plant-based.’ And you say ‘Oh, I gotta get a churro,’ and your friend says, ‘Oh I can’t.’ Well, we want everybody to enjoy everything. So, we’re still in discovery mode.”

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Southern California has two of the top 5 on Yelp’s Top 100 Most Romantic Restaurants for 2019, a nationally ranked list

  • A view of the main entrance at The Blind Rabbit in Anaheim. The Blind Rabbit, a speakeasy in Anaheim, placed No. 4 on Yelp’s Top 100 Most Romantic Restaurants for 2019, a nationally ranked list. (File photo by Ed Crisotomo, SCNG)

  • Leonard Chan, co-owner shows a hidden entrance at The Blind Rabbit in Anaheim.The Blind Rabbit, a speakeasy in Anaheim, placed No. 4 on Yelp’s Top 100 Most Romantic Restaurants for 2019, a nationally ranked list. (File photo by Ed Crisotomo, SCNG)

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  • A view of the interior of The Blind Rabbit in Anaheim. The Blind Rabbit, a speakeasy in Anaheim, placed No. 4 on Yelp’s Top 100 Most Romantic Restaurants for 2019, a nationally ranked list. (File photo by Ed Crisotomo, SCNG)

  • Ying Chang, from left, co-owner/ managing partner, her husband Robert Adamson, co-owner/ managing partner, and Leonard Chan, co-owner stand together at The Blind Rabbit in Anaheim. The Blind Rabbit, a speakeasy in Anaheim, placed No. 4 on Yelp’s Top 100 Most Romantic Restaurants for 2019, a nationally ranked list. (File photo by Ed Crisotomo, SCNG)

  • Cucina Urbana in San Diego, which has sister locations called Cucina Enoteca in Irvine, Newport Beach and Del Mar, slipped in at No. 98 on Yelp’€s Top 100 Most Romantic Restaurants for 2019, a nationally ranked list. Seen here, Cucina Enoteca at Fashion Island. (File photo by Nick Koon, Orange County Register SCNG)

  • Cucina Enoteca at Fashion Island in Newport Beach is Cucina Urbana’s sister restaurant. Cucina Urbana in San Diego was voted No. 98 on Yelp’s Top 100 Most Romantic Restaurants for 2019, a nationally ranked list. (File photo by Nick Koon, Orange County Register SCNG)

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Yelp’s Top 100 Most Romantic Restaurants for 2019, a nationally ranked list, rates two Southern California spots known for wine and cocktails higher than some legendary fine dining rooms.

The Blind Rabbit in Anaheim, a speakeasy, appeared at No. 4 and Barrique, a wine bar in Venice, took the No. 5 spot. Here’s the shocker, both ranked higher than San Franciso’s Gary Danko with its dozen Five Diamond ratings from AAA, Relais & Châteaux designation, Michelin ratings and multiple James Beard Awards, including Best New Restaurant, Best Service and Best Chef — California. Danko came in at No. 11. The two So Cal spots also muscled out Per Se, Thomas Keller’s gourmet ivory tower in Manhattan, which was listed at No. 22.

Here’s how Yelp tallied the ratings. “We identified restaurants on Yelp with a large number of reviews mentioning the words ‘romantic,’ ‘Valentine’s Day’ and ‘date night’ and ranked those spots using a number of factors including the total volume and ratings of reviews mentioning the relevant keywords.”

To make sure the lineup was geographically diverse, they limited the list to two restaurants per metro area.

A third Southern California restaurant, Cucina Urbana in San Diego, slipped in at No. 98. It’s actually a boutique chain with sister restaurants called Cucina Enoteca in Irvine, Del Mar and Newport Beach.

Yelp reviewers have spoken and it seems they don’t love white linen and formal service on date night or maybe it’s fear of the pricey check. Let’s face it, there’s nothing romantic about morning-after arguments over credit card debt. Maybe that’s what makes sneaking into a speakeasy with shareable plates, stiff cocktails and cozy seating a lot sexier.

For the complete list visit  www.yelpblog.com/ 2019/02/yelps-top-100-most- romantic-restaurants-2019.

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Southern California has 20 of Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat in the US for 2019

  • Strada Eateria & Coffee in Los Angles is know for The Impaler; two skewers of paprika pork belly, Catalonia sausage, roasted bell pepper, green onion, tomato, mango, and charred cauliflower. (Courtesy of Strada Eateria & Coffee)

  • Michelle Godinoh, left, and Tiffany Valdez eat at Mariscos Jalisco. The restaurant was named No. 100 on Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat in the US for 2019. (Photo by David Allen, SCNG)

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  • Strada Eateria & Coffee in Los Angeles serves the Strada 5 Caprese, made with buffalo mozzarella, tomato, basil, avocado, balsamic glaze, virgin olive oil, and walnuts. (Courtesy of Strada Eateria & Coffee)

  • You can get the Poke Classic at Strada Eateria & Coffee in Los Angeles. The non-rice dish features ahi tuna, sesame seeds, sesame oil, soy sauce, onion, chili, macadamia nuts, avocado, lemon, seaweed and greens. restaurant has been rated in Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat in the US for 2019. (Courtesy of Strada Eateria & Coffee)

  • Gyromania in Santa Clarita serves a Grilled Chicken Souvlaki with perfectly seasoned french fries, tzatziki, and side fresh salad. (Courtesy of Gyromania)

  • The Impossible Bacon Avocado Burger from Angel City Grill in Redondo Beach. (Courtesy of Angel City Grill)

  • The shrimp tacos at Mariscos Jalisco. The restaurant was named No. 100 on Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat in the US for 2019. (Photo by David Allen, SCNG)

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Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat in the US for 2019 was released this morning, Jan. 8, and Southern Californians have 20 honorees in their own backyard.

That’s eight fewer than last year but 90 percent of the entire list are 5-star restaurants and nearly all are priced under $30 per person (or $$ on Yelp). The extra bang for the buck comes just in time for diners who are increasingly seeking quality casual experiences.

To make the grade, businesses had to be listed in the restaurant or food categories on Yelp. Both the rating and the volume of the reviews were considered, “while accounting for the overall volume of reviews in each business’s area so as not to disadvantage businesses in areas with relatively low review volume,” a media release announcing the list stated.

If a business had multiple locations, Yelp kept the highest ranked one.

Two Southern California restaurants returned, Bunz in Huntington Beach and TKB Bakery and Deli in Indio, which topped the list last year. TKB has fallen to 37th place but another So Cal eatery, Gyromania in Santa Clarita, took the No. 4 spot.  Restaurants that made the list offer food and drink for all tastes with tacos, shabu, Middle Eastern, Cajun and even tea rooms were lauded.

Yelp, a universal clearing house for cheap eats, continues to be a much-relied on source for budget-minded foodies despite its detractors, including those voicing opinions in a November, 2018 story in Eater:  “Faced with increased competition, pay-for-play accusations, and ‘Yelper’ being used as an insult, it seems businesses are taking their advertising dollars elsewhere,” read the article topped with a headline of “Yelp’s Heyday is Over.”

Still, restaurateurs couldn’t care less. They are always stoked to be recognized in this people’s choice style venue says Ryan Cox, Yelp’s regional marketing director, who is based in Orange County.

“Earning a spot on Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat list is great exposure for so many of these spots as they are sometimes in unassuming locations like gas stations or even a laundromat,” Cox said.

Quality has been a factor like never before he says. “I think the idea of fast casual has really been shaken up. Before you’d go for burgers, pizza or other types of fast food because you knew it was quick and cheap. Now you’re looking for a meal on-the-go, but you want to make sure it’s healthy, has locally sourced ingredients and even uses sustainable packaging that’s good for the environment,” he said. “Something you’d usually always have to go to a traditional sit-down type restaurant to experience.”

And of course, there’s no better time to be a So Cal resident, he says. “We’re lucky in Southern California because not only do we have every type of food you can imagine, chefs and restaurateurs are always looking for creative ways to switch things up, put modern twists on old favorites and try a variety of fusions for something unique and different. We’re usually the trailblazers for new concepts or at least early adopters, so we get to taste and see things before they really jump in popularity across the country.”

So if you’re hungry, have at it. Here’s the list of Southern California’s honorees. Restaurants marked with a heart symbol were on the list last year. Those indicated with a diamond offer delivery or pickup.

For the complete Top 100 visit yelpblog.com.

4. Gyromania – Santa Clarita5. Broken Mouth  | Lee’s Homestyle – Los Angeles15. Local – Big Bear Lake17. Crafted Greens – El Cajon29. Chuy’s Taco Shop – San Diego30. Miss Shabu Restaurant & Sake Bar – Buena Park35. Pampa-Rara – Apple Valley36. Angel City Grill – Redondo Beach ⧫37. TKB Bakery & Deli – Indio ♥38. Bunz – Huntington Beach ♥49. Strada Eateria & Coffee – Los Angeles ⧫56. Uncle Af’s – Agoura Hills ⧫69. Tahini – San Diego70. The Modern Tea Room – Lancaster72. Bud & Rob’s New Orleans Bistro – San Diego ⧫75. Pho Guys – Vista ⧫85. Mi Ranchito Veracruz – North Hollywood ⧫94. Empanada Kitchen – San Diego95. Tribute Coffee – Garden Grove ⧫100. Mariscos Jalisco – Pomona

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McRib returns to 700 McDonald’s restaurants in Southern California

The McRib returns today, Nov. 2, to hundreds of McDonald’s restaurants across the country to celebrate its 35th birthday.

Starting today, 700 Southern California McDonald’s restaurants — stretching from Ventura to San Diego  — are serving the barbecue-slathered pork meat sandwich. Over its 35-year history, the McRib sandwich has randomly appeared in restaurants across the nation.

In Southern California, it often shows up around the holidays when diners are looking for a hot meal on a chilly day. The sandwich is made with 100 percent seasoned boneless pork slathered in McRib sauce and served on a hoagie-style bun layered with dill pickles and slivered white onions.

McDonald’s called the McRib an iconic sandwich inspired by the chain’s first executive chef. It first appeared on the menu at a McDonald’s in Kansas City, Kansas.

McDonald’s Chef Chad Schafer said: “Our customers are passionate and tell us they enjoy the sweetness of the barbeque sauce, which pairs perfectly with the hints of pickles and onions. It’s more than a sandwich, it’s a legend and has become an experience for so many to enjoy at McDonald’s.”

The McRib doesn’t typically show up in Southern California every year. But it did make an appearance in local restaurants in 2016. Find a location by downloading the McRib Locator app. Fans can also order doorstep delivery of the McRib through UberEats.

 

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Can fancy remodels save the fast-food industry?

Communal tables. Self-serve ordering kiosks. Rustic brick walls. Bar counters with outlets for plugged-in millennials.

The snazzy decor is popping up at redesigned restaurants across Southern California. But if you think the posh amenities belong to fast-casual players like Panera Bread or Mendocino Farms, think again. The comfy environment is playing out at some of the region’s oldest fast-food brands.

McDonald’s, El Pollo Loco and Taco Bell are modernizing restaurants to cater to a new generation of diners seeking sophistication, as well as speed and value when gobbling a Big Mac or chalupa.

Fast food chains are striking while the iron is hot. For the first time in years, fast-casual sales are slowing — opening the door for aging quick-service chains to win back straying customers with makeovers that go beyond a fresh coat of paint.

  • The newly remodeled McDonald’s on Orangethorpe Avenue in La Palma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. SoCal has been ground zero for testing changes before launching nationally. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The newly remodeled McDonald’s on Orangethorpe Avenue in La Palma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. SoCal has been ground zero for testing changes before launching nationally. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • El Pollo Loco in Fullerton, California, is sporting a new look that included a grey and black color theme and exposed brick on Monday, June 12, 2017. The chain is going for a rustic, natural look to go with its authentic fire grilled chicken menu. Fullerton was the first store to adopt the new design in December 2016. There’s about 30 now, and 50 expected by end of 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    El Pollo Loco in Fullerton, California, is sporting a new look that included a grey and black color theme and exposed brick on Monday, June 12, 2017. The chain is going for a rustic, natural look to go with its authentic fire grilled chicken menu. Fullerton was the first store to adopt the new design in December 2016. There’s about 30 now, and 50 expected by end of 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • More than 150 McDonald’s restaurants in Southern California have been outfitted with self-ordering kiosks. (Nancy Luna, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    More than 150 McDonald’s restaurants in Southern California have been outfitted with self-ordering kiosks. (Nancy Luna, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A newly renovated McDonald’s in Santa Monica, off Lincoln Boulevard. About 70 percent of the chain’s 600 restaurants in Orange and Los Angeles counties and Inland Empire, have been modernized. (Nancy Luna, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    A newly renovated McDonald’s in Santa Monica, off Lincoln Boulevard. About 70 percent of the chain’s 600 restaurants in Orange and Los Angeles counties and Inland Empire, have been modernized. (Nancy Luna, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A remodeled El Pollo Loco features exposed brick and Edison-style spider lights in Fullerton, California, on Monday, June 12, 2017. The chain is going for a rustic, natural look to go with its authentic fire grilled chicken menu. Fullerton was the first store to adopt the new design in December 2016. There’s about 30 now, and 50 expected by end of 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    A remodeled El Pollo Loco features exposed brick and Edison-style spider lights in Fullerton, California, on Monday, June 12, 2017. The chain is going for a rustic, natural look to go with its authentic fire grilled chicken menu. Fullerton was the first store to adopt the new design in December 2016. There’s about 30 now, and 50 expected by end of 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A remodeled El Pollo Loco features long communal tables, red barstools, cushioned booth seating, red brick walls, and Edison-style spider lights, with slate floor tiles, wood trusses, and aqua colored bistro chairs in Fullerton, California, on Monday, June 12, 2017. The chain is going for a rustic, natural look to go with its authentic fire grilled chicken menu. Fullerton was the first store to adopt the new design in December 2016. There’s about 30 now, and 50 expected by end of 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    A remodeled El Pollo Loco features long communal tables, red barstools, cushioned booth seating, red brick walls, and Edison-style spider lights, with slate floor tiles, wood trusses, and aqua colored bistro chairs in Fullerton, California, on Monday, June 12, 2017. The chain is going for a rustic, natural look to go with its authentic fire grilled chicken menu. Fullerton was the first store to adopt the new design in December 2016. There’s about 30 now, and 50 expected by end of 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A remodeled El Pollo Loco features long communal tables, red barstools, cushioned booth seating, red brick walls, and Edison-style spider lights, with slate floor tiles, wood trusses, and aqua colored bistro chairs in Fullerton, California, on Monday, June 12, 2017. The chain is going for a rustic, natural look to go with its authentic fire grilled chicken menu. Fullerton was the first store to adopt the new design in December 2016. There’s about 30 now, and 50 expected by end of 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    A remodeled El Pollo Loco features long communal tables, red barstools, cushioned booth seating, red brick walls, and Edison-style spider lights, with slate floor tiles, wood trusses, and aqua colored bistro chairs in Fullerton, California, on Monday, June 12, 2017. The chain is going for a rustic, natural look to go with its authentic fire grilled chicken menu. Fullerton was the first store to adopt the new design in December 2016. There’s about 30 now, and 50 expected by end of 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A remodeled El Pollo Loco features long communal tables, red barstools, cushioned booth seating, red brick walls, and Edison-style spider lights, with slate floor tiles, wood trusses, and aqua colored bistro chairs in Fullerton, California, on Monday, June 12, 2017. The chain is going for a rustic, natural look to go with its authentic fire grilled chicken menu. Fullerton was the first store to adopt the new design in December 2016. There’s about 30 now, and 50 expected by end of 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    A remodeled El Pollo Loco features long communal tables, red barstools, cushioned booth seating, red brick walls, and Edison-style spider lights, with slate floor tiles, wood trusses, and aqua colored bistro chairs in Fullerton, California, on Monday, June 12, 2017. The chain is going for a rustic, natural look to go with its authentic fire grilled chicken menu. Fullerton was the first store to adopt the new design in December 2016. There’s about 30 now, and 50 expected by end of 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The entry way of a remodeled El Pollo Loco in Fullerton, California, features exposed brick and a new rustic style in Fullerton, California, on Monday, June 12, 2017. The chain is going for a rustic, natural look to go with its authentic fire grilled chicken menu. Fullerton was the first store to adopt the new design in December 2016. There’s about 30 now, and 50 expected by end of 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The entry way of a remodeled El Pollo Loco in Fullerton, California, features exposed brick and a new rustic style in Fullerton, California, on Monday, June 12, 2017. The chain is going for a rustic, natural look to go with its authentic fire grilled chicken menu. Fullerton was the first store to adopt the new design in December 2016. There’s about 30 now, and 50 expected by end of 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • El Pollo Loco in Fullerton, California, is sporting a new look that included a grey and black color theme and exposed brick on Monday, June 12, 2017. The chain is going for a rustic, natural look to go with its authentic fire grilled chicken menu. Fullerton was the first store to adopt the new design in December 2016. There’s about 30 now, and 50 expected by end of 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    El Pollo Loco in Fullerton, California, is sporting a new look that included a grey and black color theme and exposed brick on Monday, June 12, 2017. The chain is going for a rustic, natural look to go with its authentic fire grilled chicken menu. Fullerton was the first store to adopt the new design in December 2016. There’s about 30 now, and 50 expected by end of 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • John Liu, left, a delivery driver with UberEats, picks up an order at the McDonald’s restaurant in La Palma, on Wednesday morning, May 17, 2017. McDonaldÕs launched the doorstep delivery through UberEats with 375 of its restaurants in southern California on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    John Liu, left, a delivery driver with UberEats, picks up an order at the McDonald’s restaurant in La Palma, on Wednesday morning, May 17, 2017. McDonaldÕs launched the doorstep delivery through UberEats with 375 of its restaurants in southern California on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • About 70 percent of the 600 McDonald’s restaurants in Orange and Los Angeles counties and Inland Empire, have been modernized. This McDonald’s dining room is in Santa Monica. (Nancy Luna, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    About 70 percent of the 600 McDonald’s restaurants in Orange and Los Angeles counties and Inland Empire, have been modernized. This McDonald’s dining room is in Santa Monica. (Nancy Luna, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A remodeled El Pollo Loco features long communal tables, red barstools, cushioned booth seating, red brick walls, and Edison-style spider lights, with slate floor tiles, wood trusses, and aqua colored bistro chairs in Fullerton, California, on Monday, June 12, 2017. The chain is going for a rustic, natural look to go with its authentic fire grilled chicken menu. Fullerton was the first store to adopt the new design in December 2016. There’s about 30 now, and 50 expected by end of 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    A remodeled El Pollo Loco features long communal tables, red barstools, cushioned booth seating, red brick walls, and Edison-style spider lights, with slate floor tiles, wood trusses, and aqua colored bistro chairs in Fullerton, California, on Monday, June 12, 2017. The chain is going for a rustic, natural look to go with its authentic fire grilled chicken menu. Fullerton was the first store to adopt the new design in December 2016. There’s about 30 now, and 50 expected by end of 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • El Pollo Loco in Fullerton, California, is sporting a new look that included a grey and black color theme and exposed brick on Monday, June 12, 2017. The chain is going for a rustic, natural look to go with its authentic fire grilled chicken menu. Fullerton was the first store to adopt the new design in December 2016. There’s about 30 now, and 50 expected by end of 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    El Pollo Loco in Fullerton, California, is sporting a new look that included a grey and black color theme and exposed brick on Monday, June 12, 2017. The chain is going for a rustic, natural look to go with its authentic fire grilled chicken menu. Fullerton was the first store to adopt the new design in December 2016. There’s about 30 now, and 50 expected by end of 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • El Pollo Loco in Fullerton, California, is sporting a new look that included a grey and black color theme and exposed brick on Monday, June 12, 2017. The chain is going for a rustic, natural look to go with its authentic fire grilled chicken menu. Fullerton was the first store to adopt the new design in December 2016. There’s about 30 now, and 50 expected by end of 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    El Pollo Loco in Fullerton, California, is sporting a new look that included a grey and black color theme and exposed brick on Monday, June 12, 2017. The chain is going for a rustic, natural look to go with its authentic fire grilled chicken menu. Fullerton was the first store to adopt the new design in December 2016. There’s about 30 now, and 50 expected by end of 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • El Pollo Loco in Fullerton, California, is sporting a new look that included a grey and black color theme and exposed brick on Monday, June 12, 2017. The chain is going for a rustic, natural look to go with its authentic fire grilled chicken menu. Fullerton was the first store to adopt the new design in December 2016. There’s about 30 now, and 50 expected by end of 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    El Pollo Loco in Fullerton, California, is sporting a new look that included a grey and black color theme and exposed brick on Monday, June 12, 2017. The chain is going for a rustic, natural look to go with its authentic fire grilled chicken menu. Fullerton was the first store to adopt the new design in December 2016. There’s about 30 now, and 50 expected by end of 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A remodeled El Pollo Loco features long communal tables, red barstools, cushioned booth seating, red brick walls, and Edison-style spider lights, with slate floor tiles, wood trusses, and aqua colored bistro chairs in Fullerton, California, on Monday, June 12, 2017. The chain is going for a rustic, natural look to go with its authentic fire grilled chicken menu. Fullerton was the first store to adopt the new design in December 2016. There’s about 30 now, and 50 expected by end of 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    A remodeled El Pollo Loco features long communal tables, red barstools, cushioned booth seating, red brick walls, and Edison-style spider lights, with slate floor tiles, wood trusses, and aqua colored bistro chairs in Fullerton, California, on Monday, June 12, 2017. The chain is going for a rustic, natural look to go with its authentic fire grilled chicken menu. Fullerton was the first store to adopt the new design in December 2016. There’s about 30 now, and 50 expected by end of 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The Signature Crafted Pico Guacamole Lime crispy chicken filet at the newly remodeled McDonald’s on Orangethorpe Avenue in La Palma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. SoCal has been ground zero for testing changes before launching nationally. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The Signature Crafted Pico Guacamole Lime crispy chicken filet at the newly remodeled McDonald’s on Orangethorpe Avenue in La Palma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. SoCal has been ground zero for testing changes before launching nationally. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The Signature Crafted Pico Guacamole Lime quarter pound burger at the newly remodeled McDonald’s on Orangethorpe Avenue in La Palma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. SoCal has been ground zero for testing changes before launching nationally. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The Signature Crafted Pico Guacamole Lime quarter pound burger at the newly remodeled McDonald’s on Orangethorpe Avenue in La Palma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. SoCal has been ground zero for testing changes before launching nationally. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The Signature Crafted Sweet BBQ Bacon crispy chicken filet at the newly remodeled McDonald’s on Orangethorpe Avenue in La Palma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. SoCal has been ground zero for testing changes before launching nationally. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The Signature Crafted Sweet BBQ Bacon crispy chicken filet at the newly remodeled McDonald’s on Orangethorpe Avenue in La Palma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. SoCal has been ground zero for testing changes before launching nationally. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • John Liu, a delivery driver with UberEats, picks up an order at the McDonald’s restaurant in La Palma, on Wednesday morning, May 17, 2017. McDonaldÕs launched the doorstep delivery through UberEats with 375 of its restaurants in southern California on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    John Liu, a delivery driver with UberEats, picks up an order at the McDonald’s restaurant in La Palma, on Wednesday morning, May 17, 2017. McDonaldÕs launched the doorstep delivery through UberEats with 375 of its restaurants in southern California on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • McDonald’s crew member Chantel Nosaka delivers a breakfast order to a customer dining in at the newly remodeled McDonald’s on Orangethorpe Avenue in La Palma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. SoCal has been ground zero for testing changes before launching nationally. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    McDonald’s crew member Chantel Nosaka delivers a breakfast order to a customer dining in at the newly remodeled McDonald’s on Orangethorpe Avenue in La Palma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. SoCal has been ground zero for testing changes before launching nationally. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • About 70 percent of the 600 McDonald’s restaurants in Southern California have been modernized, including this location in Santa Monica on Lincoln Boulevard. (Nancy Luna, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    About 70 percent of the 600 McDonald’s restaurants in Southern California have been modernized, including this location in Santa Monica on Lincoln Boulevard. (Nancy Luna, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A number is given to customers dining in and the order is delivered to the table at the newly remodeled McDonald’s on Orangethorpe Avenue in La Palma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. SoCal has been ground zero for testing changes before launching nationally. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    A number is given to customers dining in and the order is delivered to the table at the newly remodeled McDonald’s on Orangethorpe Avenue in La Palma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. SoCal has been ground zero for testing changes before launching nationally. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The newly remodeled McDonald’s drive thru on Orangethorpe Avenue in La Palma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. SoCal has been ground zero for testing changes before launching nationally. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The newly remodeled McDonald’s drive thru on Orangethorpe Avenue in La Palma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. SoCal has been ground zero for testing changes before launching nationally. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A touch screen of the self-order kiosk at the newly remodeled McDonald’s on Orangethorpe Avenue in La Palma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. SoCal has been ground zero for testing changes before launching nationally. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    A touch screen of the self-order kiosk at the newly remodeled McDonald’s on Orangethorpe Avenue in La Palma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. SoCal has been ground zero for testing changes before launching nationally. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Todd Horner, a McDonald’s owner/operator, talks about changes of the newly remodeled McDonald’s on Orangethorpe Avenue in La Palma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. SoCal has been ground zero for testing changes before launching nationally. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Todd Horner, a McDonald’s owner/operator, talks about changes of the newly remodeled McDonald’s on Orangethorpe Avenue in La Palma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. SoCal has been ground zero for testing changes before launching nationally. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Used coffee grounds are left out for customers to take at the newly remodeled McDonald’s on Orangethorpe Avenue in La Palma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. SoCal has been ground zero for testing changes before launching nationally. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Used coffee grounds are left out for customers to take at the newly remodeled McDonald’s on Orangethorpe Avenue in La Palma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. SoCal has been ground zero for testing changes before launching nationally. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The front counter at the newly remodeled McDonald’s on Orangethorpe Avenue in La Palma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. SoCal has been ground zero for testing changes before launching nationally. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The front counter at the newly remodeled McDonald’s on Orangethorpe Avenue in La Palma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. SoCal has been ground zero for testing changes before launching nationally. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A touch screen of the self-order kiosk at the newly remodeled McDonald’s on Orangethorpe Avenue in La Palma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. SoCal has been ground zero for testing changes before launching nationally. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    A touch screen of the self-order kiosk at the newly remodeled McDonald’s on Orangethorpe Avenue in La Palma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. SoCal has been ground zero for testing changes before launching nationally. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The newly remodeled McDonald’s on Orangethorpe Avenue in La Palma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. SoCal has been ground zero for testing changes before launching nationally. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The newly remodeled McDonald’s on Orangethorpe Avenue in La Palma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. SoCal has been ground zero for testing changes before launching nationally. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • McDonald’s uses packaging made partially with post-consumer recycled content at the newly remodeled McDonald’s on Orangethorpe Avenue in La Palma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. SoCal has been ground zero for testing changes before launching nationally. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    McDonald’s uses packaging made partially with post-consumer recycled content at the newly remodeled McDonald’s on Orangethorpe Avenue in La Palma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. SoCal has been ground zero for testing changes before launching nationally. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A recently remodeled McDonald’s on West Chapman Avenue in Orange. The new exterior has warmer tones, incluging beige and white hues. (Nancy Luna, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    A recently remodeled McDonald’s on West Chapman Avenue in Orange. The new exterior has warmer tones, incluging beige and white hues. (Nancy Luna, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Ofelia Melendrez-Kumpf, vice president and general manager of the Southern California Region for McDonald’s USA, talks about changes of the newly remodeled stores throughout Southern California, in La Palma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. SoCal has been ground zero for testing changes before launching nationally. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Ofelia Melendrez-Kumpf, vice president and general manager of the Southern California Region for McDonald’s USA, talks about changes of the newly remodeled stores throughout Southern California, in La Palma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. SoCal has been ground zero for testing changes before launching nationally. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Modern McDonald’s restaurants are designed with warmer colors like this store in Orange. (Nancy Luna, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Modern McDonald’s restaurants are designed with warmer colors like this store in Orange. (Nancy Luna, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • California Sol (4101 Jamboree Road, Newport Beach.): The look is inspired by Taco Bell’s California roots and the California lifestyle. “It’s our take on California modern design and style and blurs the lines between indoor and outdoor,” Taco Bell said. Heritage (14042 Red Hill Ave., Tustin): The look is inspired by the chain’s menu of Mexican-inspired food with a twist. “This style enhances our Spanish Colonial Mexican heritage,” Taco Bell said. Modern Explorer (2246 S. Grand Ave., Santa Ana): “This rustic, modern style is a refined version of our Cantina Explorer restaurants,” Taco Bell said. Urban Edge (303 W. Imperial Highway, Brea): “This design represents international high street style done the Taco Bell way,” Taco Bell said. Courtesy Taco Bell

    California Sol (4101 Jamboree Road, Newport Beach.): The look is inspired by Taco Bell’s California roots and the California lifestyle. “It’s our take on California modern design and style and blurs the lines between indoor and outdoor,” Taco Bell said. Heritage (14042 Red Hill Ave., Tustin): The look is inspired by the chain’s menu of Mexican-inspired food with a twist. “This style enhances our Spanish Colonial Mexican heritage,” Taco Bell said. Modern Explorer (2246 S. Grand Ave., Santa Ana): “This rustic, modern style is a refined version of our Cantina Explorer restaurants,” Taco Bell said. Urban Edge (303 W. Imperial Highway, Brea): “This design represents international high street style done the Taco Bell way,” Taco Bell said. Courtesy Taco Bell

  • California Sol (4101 Jamboree Road, Newport Beach.): The look is inspired by Taco Bell’s California roots and the California lifestyle. “It’s our take on California modern design and style and blurs the lines between indoor and outdoor,” Taco Bell said. Heritage (14042 Red Hill Ave., Tustin): The look is inspired by the chain’s menu of Mexican-inspired food with a twist. “This style enhances our Spanish Colonial Mexican heritage,” Taco Bell said. Modern Explorer (2246 S. Grand Ave., Santa Ana): “This rustic, modern style is a refined version of our Cantina Explorer restaurants,” Taco Bell said. Urban Edge (303 W. Imperial Highway, Brea): “This design represents international high street style done the Taco Bell way,” Taco Bell said. Courtesy Taco Bell

    California Sol (4101 Jamboree Road, Newport Beach.): The look is inspired by Taco Bell’s California roots and the California lifestyle. “It’s our take on California modern design and style and blurs the lines between indoor and outdoor,” Taco Bell said. Heritage (14042 Red Hill Ave., Tustin): The look is inspired by the chain’s menu of Mexican-inspired food with a twist. “This style enhances our Spanish Colonial Mexican heritage,” Taco Bell said. Modern Explorer (2246 S. Grand Ave., Santa Ana): “This rustic, modern style is a refined version of our Cantina Explorer restaurants,” Taco Bell said. Urban Edge (303 W. Imperial Highway, Brea): “This design represents international high street style done the Taco Bell way,” Taco Bell said. Courtesy Taco Bell

  • Taco Bell’s redesigned store at 2246 S. Grand Ave. in Santa Ana features communal dining tables made of reclaimed wood, new lighting, a digital changing menu and outlets for computers and phones. Other Taco Bell restaurants in Santa Ana, Newport Beach, Tustin and Brea feature outdoor patios with fireplaces, exhibition kitchens, dome lighting, chalkboard menu specials and midcentury modern lounge chairs. (Photo by Ana Venegas, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Taco Bell’s redesigned store at 2246 S. Grand Ave. in Santa Ana features communal dining tables made of reclaimed wood, new lighting, a digital changing menu and outlets for computers and phones. Other Taco Bell restaurants in Santa Ana, Newport Beach, Tustin and Brea feature outdoor patios with fireplaces, exhibition kitchens, dome lighting, chalkboard menu specials and midcentury modern lounge chairs. (Photo by Ana Venegas, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Taco Bell’s redesigned store at 2246 S. Grand Ave. in Santa Ana features communal dining tables made of reclaimed wood, new lighting, a digital changing menu and outlets for computers and phones. Other Taco Bell restaurants in Santa Ana, Newport Beach, Tustin and Brea feature outdoor patios with fireplaces, exhibition kitchens, dome lighting, chalkboard menu specials and midcentury modern lounge chairs. (Photo by Ana Venegas, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Taco Bell’s redesigned store at 2246 S. Grand Ave. in Santa Ana features communal dining tables made of reclaimed wood, new lighting, a digital changing menu and outlets for computers and phones. Other Taco Bell restaurants in Santa Ana, Newport Beach, Tustin and Brea feature outdoor patios with fireplaces, exhibition kitchens, dome lighting, chalkboard menu specials and midcentury modern lounge chairs. (Photo by Ana Venegas, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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In December, Costa Mesa-based El Pollo Loco launched its first “Vision” design at a store in Fullerton. The new look includes Edison-style spider lights, a battleship gray exterior, wood trusses, brick walls and large picnic-style seating.

“This is a very big departure,” Chief Development Officer John Dawson said.

Last year, Irvine-based Taco Bell unveiled four distinct designs for its next generation of fast-food stores. Features include reclaimed wood tabletops, exhibition kitchens and midcentury modern lounge chairs. The chain also is developing Cantina restaurants, a flashy brand that serves alcohol-infused slushie drinks in an urban environment.

One of the largest efforts to revamp a cookie-cutter look is happening at McDonald’s.

About 70 percent of the chain’s 600 restaurants in Orange and Los Angeles counties and Inland Empire, have been modernized.

McDonald’s Chief Executive Steve Easterbrook said building a better and more “personalized” McDonald’s is vital to the chain’s turnaround.

“There’s a sense of urgency across the business as we take actions to retain existing customers, regain lapsed customers and convert casual customers to committed customers,” he said in a first-quarter earnings statement.

A changing fast food culture

The aesthetic about-face by fast-food chains represents a huge departure in culture and thinking for an industry born out of moving customers quickly through lines and drive-through lanes.

In the case of McDonald’s, the changes are so dramatic many of the old-style red-roofed restaurants have been razed and rebuilt from the ground up.

Spruced-up local restaurants now offer table service, upscale burgers, modern furniture and fixtures, and delivery through UberEats. More than 150 McDonald’s locations also have installed touch-screen kiosks for self-serve ordering.

The kiosks are not a test — the intention is to equip every restaurant with self-serve stations, McDonald’s said.

Todd Horner, whose family operates more than 30 McDonald’s restaurants in Southern California including 12 in Orange County, said the changes are necessary to remain relevant. He has remodeled more than half of his stores including demolishing and rebuilding a new restaurant in La Palma.

“If we don’t try it, we’ll never know,” Horner said.

McDonald’s declined to say how much operators are spending on the modernization effort.

Restaurant industry expert Darren Tristano said a typical McDonald’s remodel, especially a teardown, might cost anywhere from $1.5 million to $2 million.

The capital investment is essential, he said, to keep up with rival fast-casual chains that have enticed fast food customers with their higher-quality dining experience.

“With consumer expectations of atmosphere and restaurant experience evolving quickly through fast casual, fast food needs to stay contemporary by upgrading amenities, decor and technology factors,” said Tristano, a food service analyst based in Chicago.

A new vision at El Pollo Loco

Of the more than 470 El Pollo Loco restaurants, 30 locations sport the new Vision look including seven in Southern California.

Most are new, ground-up locations while a small percentage of stores are remodeled stores in the greater Los Angeles area and Orange County. Besides Fullerton, stores in Santa Ana and Westminster recently adopted the Vision look, which scraps the bright yellow and red colors typical of most fast-food chains.

Rustic hues of gray, white and red are a stark contrast to the classic palette of primary colors. The dining room includes red barstools, cushioned booth seating, 24-inch slate floor tiles and aqua colored bistro chairs.

By the end of 2017, Dawson said El Pollo Loco should have about 50 remodeled restaurants across the system. Most will be new growth, while a handful will be conversions.

Encouraged by consumer response, so far, Dawson said the chain is planning to increase remodels at corporate-owned locations. For franchisees, the new look is suggested.

“We are looking to accelerate corporate conversions with the thinking it’ll be a big game changer for us,” Dawson said.

A turnaround was needed.

The chicken chain fumbled in 2010 when it introduced steak – a move that kept its signature product, chicken, out of the spotlight.

For the 12 months ended March 2011, El Pollo Loco reported a $38.6 million net loss.

Since then, the chain has had a razor sharp focus on promoting its fire-grilled chicken and affordable family meals. Sagging sales have since reversed but are still unsteady. In 2016, the company reported a profit of $18.3 million, down from $24.1 million in 2015.

The Vision look is a crucial piece to boost sales, especially at dinner, Dawson said during a recent tour of a remodeled Santa Ana store on South Bristol Street.

Dinner, which represents 50 percent of El Pollo Loco sales, has the potential to grow with a more inviting look, Dawson said.  Pointing to dome light fixtures, cushioned booth seating and metal and wood bistro chairs, he said, “This is much more of a place you’ll want to hang around.”

More convenient than ever

Though McDonald’s, Taco Bell and El Pollo Loco are creating leisurely experiences, make no mistake: fast food consumers demand speed, value and convenience.

To satisfy the on-demand audience, El Pollo Loco and McDonald’s recently launched delivery — one of the fastest growing trends in the industry.

Consumers make 1.7 billion delivery orders annually. Young adults are the heaviest users, representing 56 percent of foodservice delivery orders, according to market research firm The NPD Group.

In mid-June, El Pollo Loco rolled out delivery at 98 restaurants in Southern California. Diners at participating restaurants can choose delivery through the chain’s revamped app, which also offers online ordering for in-store pickup. Restaurants in Aliso Viejo, Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Irvine, Laguna Hills and Newport Beach are part of the initial delivery rollout.

In May, McDonald’s restaurants in Southern California were among 1,000 across the nation launching doorstep delivery through UberEats. On the national level,  McDonald’s has mobile order and pay in more than 1,000 restaurants, and it will be in 20,000 restaurants by the end of this year.

Remodels are reflecting those changes. At the new McDonald’s in La Palma, there’s a special counter for Uber pick up.

“Expect to see remodels more frequently and design to facilitate more off-premise dining including takeout and delivery,” Tristano said.

Challenging times

The fast-food industry modernization effort comes as the restaurant sector faces challenging times with foot traffic and sales flatlining over past few years.

Even more grim: The industry, as a whole, has not reported a month of positive sales since February 2016, according to data by restaurant market research firm TDn2K.  Nearly every segment is experiencing a dip in sales, even fast-casual chains, which have been on a hot streak for years.

Dawson said, “you have to stand out to survive.”

That’s why El Pollo Loco is willing to tweak its decor, but will never mess with its core grilled chicken menu. “We think our food separates us from the rest of the players.”

That’s good news for Leonel Barragan, 66.

He’s been a loyal crazy chicken customer since the first American restaurant opened in Los Angeles in 1980. He comes to the Santa Ana El Pollo Loco every Thursday with his mother to eat his favorite meal: a breast and wing meal.

He described the remodel as “cozy and comfy” but not critical to his visit.

“That food is the whole reason we come to the store,” he said.

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A Big Mac at your doorstep? McDonald’s partners with UberEats for McDelivery in Southern California

  • The Big Mac burger is now available through delivery. (AP Photo/McDonald’s Corp.)

    The Big Mac burger is now available through delivery. (AP Photo/McDonald’s Corp.)

  • UberEats and McDonald’s are partnering for delivery.

    UberEats and McDonald’s are partnering for delivery.

  • Now you can order a Big Mac and fries and have it delivered to your home or office using UberEats. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

    Now you can order a Big Mac and fries and have it delivered to your home or office using UberEats. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

  • A large order of McDonald’s french fries from McDonald’s (AP Photo/Rich Kareckas

    A large order of McDonald’s french fries from McDonald’s (AP Photo/Rich Kareckas

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Starting Wednesday, Southern California Big Mac fans can satisfy their craving without leaving their driveway.

McDonald’s has launched doorstep delivery through UberEats at 375 restaurants in Orange, Los Angeles and Riverside counties. With the exception of soft-serve ice cream orders and promotional items, the full McDonald’s menu is available through the fast-growing delivery division of Uber.

Third-generation McDonald’s operator Todd Horner, whose family runs 34 Southern California restaurants, said McDelivery allows the chain to get “our meals into people’s hands that may not be able to make it into the restaurant.”

McDonald’s restaurants in Southern California are among the first in the nation to launch delivery. The world’s largest burger chain is expected to expand the service over the coming months in other regions.

Meeting consumer demand for delivery comes as McDonald’s tries to stay one step ahead of its biggest fast food rivals: Burger King, Wendy’s and Jack in the Box.

San Diego-based Jack in the Box launched delivery of its entire menu in late March through a partnership with San Francisco-based DoorDash.  Of the 856 restaurants testing delivery, 273 are in Southern California – a key market for Jack in the Box, the company said.

Wendy’s and DoorDash are piloting a delivery program at 135 restaurants in Dallas and Columbus, Ohio. Some parts of Orange County also offer delivery. Irvine-based Taco Bell has offered delivery through DoorDash for nearly two years.

McDonald’s is joining a number of popular restaurants going with UberEats, one of the industry’s fastest-growing food delivery companies.

Since debuting in 2014 in Los Angeles, UberEats has added thousands of restaurants to its roster including The Halal Guys, Panda Express, The Flame Broiler, Umami Burger, Slater’s 50/50, Lemonade, Ruby’s Diner and Johnny Rockets.

On the app, pizza, Mexican food and burgers are the most popular search categories.

“People in Southern California search for McDonald’s in the UberEats app almost daily, so we’re excited to expand our reach and deliver what they’ve been craving,” UberEats spokesman Allen Narcisse said in a statement.

Postmates, an on-demand delivery service, said the Big Mac is the No. 1 fast-food item craved by its users. (Note: Postmates acts more like a personal courier service by allowing users to create custom shopping orders).

Many of those searching for food delivery are the industry’s next generation of diners: millennials.

The nation’s 75 million millennials, roughly defined as ages 18-34 in 2015, outnumber Baby Boomers. Mobile ordering is among their biggest pastimes.

Market research firm NPD Group reports 1.7 billion deliveries in foodservice visits annually. Young adults are the heaviest users, representing 56 percent of delivery orders.

Compared to other generations, Gen Z and Gen Y are also the most satisfied users of food delivery services, according to NPD.

“If delivery fits a foodservice operator’s business model and it’s operationally feasible, they definitely need to add it on as an option in order to stay competitive,” said Warren Solochek, president of NPD’s Foodservice Practice division.Delivering meals is one of

Delivering meals is one of several strategies McDonald’s has employed to lure today’s experiential-focused consumer. In recent years, McDonald’s has modernized restaurants, made breakfast available all day and added a line of Signature Crafted burgers made with upscale ingredients.

Many of those programs were first tested in Southern California.

Horton, whose family runs 12 McDonald’s stores in Orange County, said the company has evolved to be more accessible and customer-focused. Testing new ideas is necessary to stay relevant.

“Not everything is going to work perfectly, but a lot of good things come out of trial and error,” said the 34-year-old operator. “If we don’t try it, we’ ll never know.”

Of his 34 restaurants, 23 restaurants are participating in UberEats program. Normal UberEats “booking fees” apply. Locally, fees are about $4.99 per delivery.

However, McDelivery customers can get $5 off their first two UberEATS orders by using the following promotional code valid through July 1: FRIES4U. No minimum order. The promotion is only valid for new users.

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Laguna Beach restaurateur Jon Madison selling his PCH café

Longtime Laguna Beach restaurateur and former City Council candidate Jon Madison is selling his Madison Square & Garden Café.

The property, a combination restaurant and gift and home decor shop, has a pricetag of $6.5 million.

Built in 1912, the classic Craftsman bungalow has an expansive front porch and multiple patio areas. It’s set on an 8,712-square-foot parcel with towering, mature trees in the city’s north gallery district.

Next door is Urth Café; across the street is the Laguna Art Museum. Main Beach is a block away.

The C-1 zoning allows flexibility, and the café is approved for serving wine and beer, according to the listing. The café has a complete commercial kitchen, it says.

Upstairs, a manager’s suite could be a residence, office space or leased for extra income, the listing suggests. It also says the owner spent $1 million on improvements that “will provide years of low-cost maintenance for the next investor.”

The capitalization rate – the rate of return on the property based on the income it’s expected to generate – was estimated at 7.4 percent.

Sakin Team at Star Real Estate is the listing agent.

Property records show Madison purchased the building with another buyer in 1997. They paid $455,000, according to the records. Madison is now the sole owner, said Philip Talbert at Sakin Team.

The restaurant and its fixtures are included in the sale; the gift shop inventory is negotiable, Talbert said.

Why is Madison selling?

“I think he’s just ready for another chapter,” Talbert said. Madison did not return a reporter’s calls.

Madison is a well-liked businessman who’s been active in the city’s historical preservation efforts, and he’s known as a philanthropist. He has opened the restaurant to fundraisers and donated the food, according to a Register story in 2014.

He also claimed to be a licensed lawyer with numerous university degrees.

But that September, as Madison made what would be an unsuccessful run for City Council, a Register reporter researching his background found that he had none of the degrees nor the State Bar of California membership he said he had.

When confronted, Madison insisted his claims were true.

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