Andrea Cherng was studying abroad in Singapore when she found herself standing outside of a restaurant, looking in through the window at families sharing Chinese New Year meals and red envelopes exchanged between generations.
"That was my first realization," Cherng told NBC News. "'This is the value of Chinese New Year.' It's a time for us to pause, it's a time for us to gather with people we consider family. It's a time to do everything we can to bring good fortune into the year."
As the chief marketing officer for Panda Restaurant Group — whose best-known restaurant, Panda Express, boasts nearly 2,000 locations worldwide — Cherng is no stranger to the blend of culture and food. For years, the family-owned American Chinese restaurant has sought to bring the spirit of Chinese New Year (also called Lunar New Year, with celebrations in many countries outside of China) to its diverse customers.
"What we want to bring to Chinese New Year is to invite an audience that may have seen Chinese New Year celebrations from the outside into the actual celebration," Cherng, daughter of Panda Restaurant Group founders and CEOs Andrew and Peggy Cherng, said. "Our role at Panda is very much to bring people from outside the window, staring in, to inside the celebration itself."
As part of its new year's celebration, Panda Express launched an interactive website to share facts and stories about the holiday, which also includes learning kits for classrooms, and to invite customers to "Join the Feastivities" and Panda throughout the holiday season.
Through Feb. 21, the restaurant is also offering in-store promotions, from red envelopes to limited edition menu items to a full "Celebration Kit" with Panda's Family Feast order that includes decorations, stickers, and games.
"Our idea was: 'How do we make Chinese New Year approachable, accessible, something people can get their arms around?" Cherng said. "What we wanted to do was create a Chinese New Year meal that you can go in and pick up and eat in the store or have at home, but have it be just an entire celebration package together."
But Panda's celebration of the new year isn't limited to its own company: the restaurant group worked with longtime beverage partner PepsiCo to create a short film about the holiday, and also created a custom Chinese New Year deck for Ellen DeGeneres' "Heads Up!" app that highlights various new year traditions.
Millions around the world celebrate Lunar New Year annually, from China to the Philippines to the U.S., with billions of trips expected to be taken in China alone as many travel home to spend the holiday season with family.