Red Panda Noodle seems to bring something unique to Central Florida dining

Orange County, Florida. Elliot Hillis and Seth Parker aren’t newcomers to the Orlando area, but they’re hoping to bring something completely different to the dining scene with their new restaurant, Red Panda Noodle.

Hillis and Parker recently left the kitchen at Orlando Meats to start their own independent business.

“We’re used to doing a lot more small restaurant business – more focused, more intimate – and it’s time to get back into that,” Hillis said.

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Hillis said times were tough at the Orlando Mets and the pair wanted to take a chance on themselves.

“One of our chefs left — he left the industry — and basically put us in a situation where without that number, we’d be out of a structural crew, and the Orlando Mets wouldn’t work for us,” he said. “We had to work like 100 hours a week at the same pay and it would be awful. So we’re like, ‘Well, you know if we’re going to collapse, we might as well collapse on our own terms.'”

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Elliot Hillis and Seth Parker from Red Panda Noodle (Elliott Hillis / Red Panda Noodle)

Red Panda already has a brick-and-mortar site. Helles said he wasn’t ready to advertise the site, because previous tenants were still ending their lease, but said it’s on the border of Winter Park and Castlebury along Semuran Street.

“People are buying houses there because it’s very expensive in Orlando and Winter Park,” Hillis said. “So we have residents that are looking to eat more and they will be closer to us. So it is really a good and solid location from that perspective.”

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Hillis said he and Parker are looking to strike a balance with Red Panda.

“It is an expression of what we enjoy and what we studied in our time cooking and eating,” he said. “It will be familiar enough that fickle people can get what they want, and it will be unruly enough that enterprising people can get what they want.”

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The example that Hillis gave was Red Panda’s opinion of tteokbokki, which are Korean rice cakes.

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“We basically started with the concept that everyone and their mom loves macaroni and cheese. What’s our version of macaroni and cheese? And then we developed this dish, and I feel unrecognizable from macaroni and cheese but spiritually I feel they are connected. It’s comfort food from different cultures mashed together.”

Hillis said the dish has influences from South American and French cuisine and features a sauce that “sort of mimics velveta.”

Brownies from Red Panda Noodle (Elliott Hillis / Red Panda Noodle)

While the couple waits for their new space to open, they pop up a series of pop-ups and area bars.

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“The last time we did it on a Monday, we sold out in 45 minutes, and then there was a two-hour wait for us to actually get the food out,” Hillis said. “It was an interesting exercise.”

The chefs intend to continue the pop-ups for the next few months, posting them on their Instagram page, until the new site is up and running. Hillis said he plans to announce the site about a month after opening, hopefully in November.

At the moment, the team consists mostly of only Hillis and Parker, although they have some friends and loved ones who have been helping them. The couple plans to take a different approach when it comes to their employees.

“Everyone gets paid because we have a philosophy that everyone needs to be there and get their hands on everything and you can’t really get that with part-time workers. You can’t really achieve that with people who haven’t been 100% invested in what’s going on.

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