A Filipino restaurant with a cult-like following will be bringing its favorite flavors to Jacksonville soon when Jollibee cracks open its front doors to what will probably be long lines of hungry fans.
Jollibee, the largest fast-food restaurant in the Philippines, will open up its first store in Florida on the corner of Atlantic and Kernan. Construction project manager Trevor Rhody said it will be opening its doors “sometime after Thanksgiving and into December” but an exact date has not been chosen yet. If it’s anything like Jollibee openings elsewhere, you’d better show up early.
When the restaurant opened in Chicago in July, the line was so long the company set up tents to keep the enormous lines of customers cool. Let’s just say, the restaurant’s fans, both at home in the Philippines and here, are more than a bit fanatic. One customer drove seven hours one way to Chicago just to spend more time waiting to snag a favorite Jollibee treat.
In the warm South Sea nation where it originated, the restaurant has a cult-like following. In the U.S., new followers are flocking to its doors and in Chicago the lines still haven’t gotten noticeably shorter.
A Chicago Jollibee employee, who declined to give his name on a telephone call from Jacksonville, said that the fast-food restaurant was so popular in the Philippines that his first three words were mama, papa and Jollibee.
“Jollibee focuses on the customers,” the Chicago employee said. “The Philippines is one of the most hospitable countries in the world, so we try to bring that here. Whatever we can offer to make them feel comfortable and happy.”
Now, the beloved restaurant has over 1,000 stores around the world and is still growing.
It makes sense that the first Jollibee in Florida would be located here on the First Coast. Not only does Jacksonville have the largest Filipino population in Florida, residents of the islands constitute the largest immigrant group in the city.
“Jollibee has a goal of opening 200 stores across the United States. It currently has 26,” Rhody said. The company is planning on opening another location in Tampa although no more information has been released at this time.
Chris Soriano was born and raised in Manila before coming to the U.S. at the age of 12. He has gone to various Jollibee locations both in the Philippines and in the U.S. He is very excited for the Jollibee opening up here in Jacksonville, and thinks it will be incredibly successful due to the large Filipino population.
“Jollibee puts the Filipino population in Jacksonville on the map,” Andrada said. “I mean nothing is more Filipino than Jollibee, so it will definitely be a hotspot for the Jacksonville community.”
Soriano agreed. “It spreads Filipino food to other cultures. They introduce Americans to other foods they don’t know.”
Jollibee started as a small family-owned ice cream parlor in 1975, but quickly gained popularity as some of its top-selling dishes like its crispy Chickenjoy and sweet Jolly Spaghetti were introduced.
In fact, it’s Jollibee’s menu that definitely makes this place unique. The menu offers a variety of dishes inspired from traditional Filipino food including Fiesta Noodles, a fast-food version of palabok, which are rice noodles with a shrimp-flavored sauce. It also offers sliders made of either chicken, corned beef or Spam.
The restaurant’s most popular menu option is Chickenjoy. Chickenjoy is not just fried chicken though. It has very crispy skin and is just “juicylicious” when you take a bite as described by the restaurant’s ads.
Andrada said she can’t wait to pop a piece of the crispy treat in her mouth. “Chickenjoy is five times better than Popeye’s.”
Another popular dish is Jollibee’s Jolly Spaghetti. The sauce is sweet and a bit sour, because it is made with a secret ingredient — banana sauce. Banana sauce is ketchup made from tomatoes and, of course, bananas. The sauce contains chunks of ham, sausage, ground beef and lots of cheese.
If you only eat chicken fingers don’t worry, Jollibee has that option for you too. Now, for the best part of a meal — dessert.
“Our best seller is our peach mango pie because the Philippines have the best mangos in the world,” the Chicago employee said.
Another fan favorite is Jollibee’s Halo-Halo, which means “mixed mix” in Tagalog. It is the Filipino version of a sundae. The base is made of shaved ice, fruit and jellies that are covered in sweet milk. The dessert is topped with flan, mango ice cream and ube ice cream. For those who are unfamiliar of what ube is, it is a purple yam that is similar to a sweet potato or taro, but without the tartness.
“It tastes best when you mix it until the ice is melted, so that you have all the flavors mixed well” the Chicago Jollibee employee said.
So, if you want to sample the pride of Filipino fast food, be on hand to celebrate the opening of Jollibee.
But get there early.
By Alexandra Torres-Perez | UNF Communication Student