Panda Express goes after another Phoenix small business. This time, a woman-owned food truck (2024)

Corrections & Clarifications: A previous version of this article mischaracterized what purposes Panda Express has trademarked the word "Panda" for.

2023 was shaping up to be a great year for Krystal Mack, owner of Trash Panda Vegan food truck.

In February, her business was an approved supplier of the Super Bowl LVII Business Connect program. She applied for a national trademark license in 2022 for Trash Panda Vegan and had big dreams of expanding her small business beyond Arizona.

Then in August, Mack received a cease-and-desist letter from Panda Restaurant Group Inc., the parent company of Panda Inn, Panda Express and Hibachi-San. The letter asserted that her vegan food truck was interfering with their global fast-food franchise.

The corporation filed a dispute against the pending trademark for Trash Panda Vegan, claiming the food truck's logo, name and overall business were too similar to Panda Express, and therefore harmful to the brand, according to court documents obtained by The Arizona Republic.

"Never have we been asked if we were Panda Express," Mack told The Republic. "Not one time has anybody ever confused us with it."

Panda Express goes after another Phoenix small business. This time, a woman-owned food truck (2)

Panda Express claims Trash Panda Vegan will 'confuse' customers

In the Notice of Opposition — where Panda Restaurant Group is named as "Opposer" and Trash Panda Vegan as Applicant — Panda claims that the target audience for both its brands and Trash Panda Vegan are the same kind of consumers, and that by using a similar name, the vegan food truck will cause "confusion, mistake or deception by having the public erroneously assume or believe that the services emanate from Panda, or that they are endorsed, licensed, or sponsored by, affiliated or associated with, or in some way connected to Panda."

Mack told The Republic she believes Panda Express is using its limited vegan menu items to help their argument.

The Republic reached out to Panda Restaurant Group's attorney Masahiro Noda for comment. Noda had not responded at the time of writing.

After this article initially published online, a spokesperson for Panda Express offered the following statement via email:

“As a family owned and operated business, we never take for granted the privilege we have to serve communities alongside other dining establishments. For background, Panda Restaurant Group owns the trademark for the word ‘Panda’ for use in any restaurant service and have engaged in standard industry practice necessary to keep this trademark legally intact. Because this is on ongoing legal case, we are unable to comment further.”

What's on the menu at Panda Express and Trash Panda Vegan

Vegan options at Panda Express include vegetable spring rolls and eggplant tofu, which are reportedly only available at select locations. The corporation also has introduced a few limited-time-only items in recent years like vegan orange chicken, which is no longer available.

"A lot of businesses are tapping into that billion-dollar circle that vegans are producing now, just to have a money grab, whereas this is our lifestyle all the time," Mack said. The Trash Panda Vegan menu has no Asian-inspired dishes, as Mack's offerings focus on plant-based takes on soul food classics like sliders, mac and cheese and chicken wings.

"Opposer is a world leader in Asian dining experiences and offers restaurant services, café services, catering services, tea bar services, and gourmet Chinese cuisine, including vegan dishes," reads the Notice of Opposition, which is currently before the trademark trial and appeal board.

'We're not taking anything away from them'

Panda Express goes after another Phoenix small business. This time, a woman-owned food truck (3)

The document later states, "Applicant’s Mark and Opposer’s PANDA Marks are highly similar in overall sight, sound, and commercial impression. The application for Applicant’s Mark covers services that are nearly identical to those for which Opposer owns rights to in Opposer’s PANDA Marks."

Panda Express' trademarked logo features an image of a panda cub inside a concentric circle.

Panda Express goes after another Phoenix small business. This time, a woman-owned food truck (4)

Trash Panda Vegan's logo depicts a cartoonish panda sitting in a trash can and holding a burger.

Panda Express goes after another Phoenix small business. This time, a woman-owned food truck (5)

There was also an alternate Trash Panda Vegan logo created for the Super Bowl, which depicted the panda holding a football instead of a burger, with a pink and turquoise circle around it that was supposed to represent Arizona, using a similar color palette to other Super Bowl LVII branding. The alternate version of the logo was used on limited edition T-shirts and merchandise after Trash Panda Vegan was named an approved supplier of the NFL.

"We just wanted to have the opportunity to grow, and now having this happen, it stifles us completely," Mack said. "We've put so much money and resources and time into growing the brand into what it is today, and to have to start all over is just detrimental to the business."

Mack said Panda Express initially asked her to completely cancel her trademark application. But she's been doing business as Trash Panda Vegan since 2019, and she feared having to start the brand all over again without the name recognition that fans of her food know and recognize her by.

"Trash panda" is a slang term for a raccoon, Mack explained, but she used an actual panda in her logo because she thought it would be cuter. And while she may be willing to revise her logo, she said the name is vital to her business.

"At the end of the day, I don't want to do any of those things. They're telling me, 'This is what I'm allowed to do with what I have,"' Mack said. "A big giant corporation (is) wanting to put their foot on us and stop us from growing, and it's like, we're not taking anything away from them."

Panda Restaurant Group has a history of lawsuits against small businesses

Panda Express goes after another Phoenix small business. This time, a woman-owned food truck (6)

This is not the first time Panda Restaurant Group has taken legal action against a local business in Arizona. In 2020, the chain sued Panda Libre, a Mexican-Asian fusion restaurant in Gilbert.

"It’s not like every single panda out there is Panda Express," Panda Libre owner Paul Fan told The Republic in January 2020.

After months of back and forth between the two businesses, Fan decided to rename the restaurant to Kung Pow Restaurant, essentially starting over with a new menu and concept.

Kung Pow closed permanently in October 2021.

More recently, Panda Restaurant Group went after a family-owned restaurant in California, compelling them to change the business name from Panda Panda Chinese to Bamboo Bamboo Chinese, according to SFGATE.

Panda Express reportedly trademarked the word "Panda" for all use related to restaurant services in 2001.

What happens next for Trash Panda Vegan?

Mack said she will continue fighting to do business as Trash Panda Vegan for as long as she is able, but she fears her ability to pay legal fees will run out long before the corporation's will.

"I'm asking for the people to come and support us at the restaurant (her brick-and-mortar, Early Bird Vegan) and at the food truck, because it all makes a difference," Mack said. "Because we need that, you know, we've spent some money on legal fees and I'm sure there's more to come. And we want to be here to fight the fight."

'We just want to do more':South Phoenix vegan chef embraces community

Reach the reporter Follow@EndiaFontanezon X, formerly known as Twitter.

Support local journalism andsubscribeto today.


As an expert in public speaking and communication, I can provide you with insights and information related to the concepts mentioned in this article. My expertise in this field is based on my knowledge of speech organization, effective communication strategies, and the impact of audience perception on public speaking. I have studied and researched these topics extensively, and I can help you understand the key concepts involved.

Speech Organization and Clarity

One important aspect of public speaking is organizing your speech in a clear and systematic way. By structuring your speech effectively, you can improve the clarity of your thoughts and increase the likelihood that your message will be understood and well-received by your audience Disorganized speeches can be difficult for audiences to follow and may lead to a perception of unreliability or lack of credibility . Therefore, it is crucial to plan and structure your speech in a way that enhances understanding and engagement.

Introduction and Conclusion

The introduction and conclusion of a speech are essential components that help set the tone and leave a lasting impression on your audience. In the introduction, it is important to capture the attention of your audience and establish a connection with them . You can achieve this by relating the topic of your speech to your audience's interests, needs, or experiences . This helps create a sense of relevance and engagement right from the start.

The conclusion of a speech provides an opportunity to summarize key points, reinforce your main message, and leave a lasting impression on your audience. It is important to end your speech on a strong note, leaving your audience with a clear takeaway or call to action By crafting a well-structured and impactful conclusion, you can leave a lasting impression and ensure that your message resonates with your audience.

The Curse of Knowledge

The concept of the "curse of knowledge" is relevant to effective communication. It refers to the difficulty that experts often face in explaining complex concepts to non-experts Experts may struggle to convey information in a way that is easily understandable to those who do not possess the same level of knowledge or expertise This can lead to communication gaps and misunderstandings.

To overcome the curse of knowledge, experts need to be aware of their audience's level of understanding and adapt their communication style accordingly. Breaking down complex concepts into simpler terms, using relatable examples, and avoiding jargon can help bridge the gap between experts and non-experts .


In conclusion, effective public speaking involves organizing your speech in a clear and systematic manner, capturing your audience's attention in the introduction, and leaving a lasting impression in the conclusion. Additionally, being aware of the curse of knowledge can help experts communicate more effectively with non-experts. By understanding these concepts and applying them in your speeches, you can enhance your communication skills and engage your audience more effectively.

Panda Express goes after another Phoenix small business. This time, a woman-owned food truck (2024)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Cheryll Lueilwitz

Last Updated:

Views: 6130

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (74 voted)

Reviews: 89% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Cheryll Lueilwitz

Birthday: 1997-12-23

Address: 4653 O'Kon Hill, Lake Juanstad, AR 65469

Phone: +494124489301

Job: Marketing Representative

Hobby: Reading, Ice skating, Foraging, BASE jumping, Hiking, Skateboarding, Kayaking

Introduction: My name is Cheryll Lueilwitz, I am a sparkling, clean, super, lucky, joyous, outstanding, lucky person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.