Oct. 26--Panda Express opened with a splash last weekend.
Construction crews can still be seen putting the finishing touches to the store off Custer Avenue, but already the fast-casual Chinese restaurant has customers lining up out the drive-through.
"This is the number one opening in Montana," General Manager Chadwick Haight said Thursday. He said the Helena location has already recorded the top sales day of all Panda Express stores in the state.
It's the company's fourth location in Montana and "one of the first" to boast a new, bold building design with eat-in and drive-through options.
Haight, 26, is a graduate of Helena High who says he returned to his hometown to manage the new restaurant. Haight said he's excited to work in the franchise that he called very employee-focused.
Panda Express will employee around 20 people, he said, with wages starting at $9 per hour. Employees cut the store's vegetables and make its sauces on-site, Haight added.
"It's a chain, but we make it feel as local as possible."
The restaurant already has scheduled more than 15 fundraising events for local organizations, including one for the YMCA on Nov. 1. Haight said 20 percent of all sales on that day will benefit the nonprofit.
The spot in the corner of the Custer Landing shopping center on the south side of Custer Avenue is an ideal location for the restaurant, he said. "I think it's probably one of the best locations in Helena."
In the nearby Skyway Regional Shopping Mall, Shoe Carnival and T.J. Maxx are the latest stores to open for business.
Shoe Carnival opened about two weeks ago, while the next-door discount fashion retailer holds its grand opening today, Oct. 27.
Shoe Carnival manager Tim Brown said his store carries top brands like Nike, Adidas and Reebok, as well as an inventory of western products like Justin and Ariat boots. He also promises "grade-A" customer service at the family shoe store.
Shoe Carnival will hold its grand opening celebration on Nov. 9, which Brown said will include numerous customer giveaways.
Brown said he's encouraged by the development in the Skyway area. "It's something that was much needed in Helena," he said. "It needed a surge of retail."
He's also glad to see his neighbor T.J. Maxx open its doors. "We're super excited for them to open. We're going to be open all day right with them," he said.