Panda General Store steps up online service during COVID-19 pandemic

When Panda General Store opened just a few weeks ago, the online shopping site offered

When Panda General Store opened just a few weeks ago, the online shopping site offered just five pre-packed grocery boxes.

Now, as partners Evan Asato, Andrew Tran and Eric Chu prepare for this weekend’s grand opening, their store has more than a thousand items available.

“It’s become an online supermarket,” Asato said.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Asato and Tran were running a media marketing company, helping local companies with promotional strategies, including photography and video work.

“It was doing well and growing, we had a lot of restaurants on monthly retainers,” Asato said.

But the onset of COVID-19 meant little or no business.

Then, while trying to order groceries, Asato said he was told by two large stores that he would have to wait a week for delivery.

“We didn’t feel safe going to the stores, and we needed to shop for our parents and grandparents, too,” Asato said.

The three friends realized they had the expertise and connections to start their own store — on the internet.

“A lot of our friends work in food and beverage,” he said. “We knew how to work with the distributors.”

Their goal is same-day delivery, using eight drivers who collectively fill 30 to 70 orders daily. Delivery is free for orders over $50, $9.99 for smaller orders. Stock is focused on locally grown and produced items.

They make their money as traditional stores do, by marking up the purchases they make from wholesalers and farmers, Asato said. They do have a warehouse, but overhead is much lower than at brick-and-mortar supermarkets.

“Our prices are very competitive,” he added.

Panda’s three-day grand opening starts Friday with 25% off seafood items, including crab legs and lobster tails. It continues Saturday with the same discount on Wagyu beef products, and then Sunday with savings on Hawaii-made items and special box sets.

“COVID-19 really changed the way we live today, and there was a strong need in the market for a delivery service that offers residents peace of mind … while supporting Hawaii’s businesses,” Tran said.

Online orders taken 24/7 at Phone orders taken from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays at 374-2994. Islandwide deliveries are made Mondays through Saturdays.

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