Couple open first Chinese restaurant in Camden
By William F. West
Monday, May 14, 2018
CAMDEN — Apparently the Panda isn’t the only one hungry at Camden’s first-ever Chinese restaurant.
According to James and Holly Wang-Riggs, who manage the Hungry Panda, customer traffic has been so heavy since their “soft” opening in late April, they’ve already had to hire a second chef and some part-time kitchen help. They’re also having to invest in a second credit-card reader.
"I don't think we were expecting quite so many people at one time, especially during the soft opening," James said.
"Yes," wife Holly said in agreement. "It’s been a little bit crazy.”
The couple are especially surprised since they didn’t do a lot of advertising about when they would be opening.
Being the only Chinese restaurant in Camden — a county with few restaurants to begin with — certainly has helped spur business. So has the restaurant’s location: it’s at 100 Plank Bridge Road, in the new Camden Towne Center, in the same building as Itza Boutza Pizza and Todd's Pharmacy of Camden. According to N.C. Department of Transportation data, nearby U.S. Highway 158 has an average traffic count of 16,000-17,000 vehicles a day.
James also believes the restaurant’s name and logo have helped draw in customers. He recalled how an entire busload of high school softball players, after seeing the sign, ran toward the restaurant, leaving their bus parked in the nearby Hardee’s restaurant parking lot.
James said he and Holly came up with the name, Hungry Panda, because they thought it was a good tie-in with the Bruins mascot name at neighboring Camden County High School.
"We wanted something unique," James said. "We didn't want to blend in with the rest of the crowd."
The Hungry Panda’s menu contains all the traditional dishes one finds at other Chinese restaurants in the area. The menu includes beef, chicken, fried rice, pork, seafood, soup and sweet-and-sour chicken served with either pork, rice or shrimp.
Holly said popular items with customers so far have included General Tso's chicken, crispy chicken and sweet-and-sour chicken.
James’ family is well-known in Camden. His father is Clayton Riggs, chairman of the Camden Board of Commissioners.
Holly is originally from Taipei, the Taiwanese capital. She and her family immigrated to New York and eventually moved to Perquimans County, where her father works in agriculture.
James and Holly met while they were students at Elizabeth City State University. They’ve been married for 11 years and have two young children.
Both James and Holly have jobs outside the restaurant. James works with the Camden County Schools as a computer technician. He’s been with the school district since 2007.
Holly works as a technology assistant at River Road Middle School, but she also has experience in the restaurant industry. She once worked at Dragon Buffet at Southgate Mall and for the family that operates the Shun Xing II Chinese restaurant in Elizabeth City.
It was in fact that latter experience that led to her and James’ role managing the Hungry Panda.
Chiu and Joyce Wong, owners of the Shung Xing II, were looking to expand. Holly showed the Wongs the location of the future Camden Towne Center. The Wongs liked the site for a new restaurant and asked Holly to come aboard as manager.
Not including the Riggses, the Hungry Panda currently has a staff of 11 and can seat 32 dine-in customers.
The Hungry Panda's hours are from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturdays and 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays.
The restaurant can be reached by phone at 331-1401. You can also find the restaurant on the web at: http://www.hungrypandanc.com/hungrypandanc_17/index.htm.