Jollibee takes flight: Filipino QSR’s US growth hits 100 stores and beyond 

Jollibee has 101 stores in North America, but with franchising on the horizon, the Filipino favorite will soon become your competition.

Filipino fast-food chain Jollibee is experiencing explosive growth in the U.S. This growth is evident in its store count, reaching a significant milestone with its 101st North American location, which recently opened in Seattle. 

Their expansion strategy targets both Filipinos residing in the U.S. and introducing their unique flavors to a wider American audience. Die-hard fans have even camped out overnight for store openings, highlighting the excitement surrounding Jollibee’s arrival in new areas. 

Jollibee credits its success to strong brand building and menu offerings. Their signature Chickenjoy fried chicken and other Filipino favorites like sweet spaghetti resonate with customers. The Jollibee Group, which owns the brand, considers North America a key market and plans for continued aggressive expansion through franchising and organic growth. Their goal? Becoming a top global restaurant company, and with their current momentum, it seems well within reach. 

The brand has 72 stores in the U.S. and another 29 in Canada, and its first North American restaurant was in Daly City, California. There are more than 1,600 Jollibee locations worldwide. 

Jollibee was founded in the Philippines by Tony Tan Caktiong using his family’s recipes in 1978. The business had been an ice cream parlor that forayed into fast food dishes like hamburgers, spaghetti and fried chicken, and “very soon the food became more popular than the ice cream,” Nick Bedell, marketing director for Jollibee, said in a phone interview with QSRweb. “The ice cream parlor was rebranded as Jollibee and very quickly it expanded, especially with the signature Chickenjoy fried chicken dish.” 

The brand soon became a top fast food restaurant in the Philippines, and it became a source of national pride for the country, Bedell said. For Filipinos in the U.S., it offers a taste of home, and for U.S. natives a taste of the Philippines. 

Bedell added that the brand is excited to be expanding beyond the Filipino community with its 101st North American unit. “A lot of that is because of the really high-quality food that we offer,” he said. “Our products are very universal. They’re not distinctly Filipino. They’re a unique take on some of the ways they’re prepared.” 

On the Menu:

So why chicken in a bevy of QSR offerings? Bedell said the food was meant to be like fast food, which is generally American and “therefore craveable and quick to order, but the twist that Jollibee took to the food was to actually cater it to the Filipino taste,” Bedell added. The burgers were done in a uniquely Filipino way, the Chickjoy fried chicken has a slightly different approach to traditional American QSR chicken and the spaghetti is a unique Filipino dish with a sweeter sauce that American or Italian sauces. 

The Chickenjoy fried chicken has a light crispiness to it, Bedell explained, and it has a “deep juiciness” on the inside that sets Jollibee apart from other chicken brands in the QSR sector. The chicken sandwich, Bedell believes, is one of the best on the U.S. market. 

“Despite our smaller size, we’re really excited about the reception that our food is getting, and I think it’s really driving the growth of the brand as well,” Bedell said. “While the foods are familiar and certainly not a far cry from what we might expect or be used to, they do stand on their own with some unique approaches to the food that was originally designed to suit the Filipino consumers.” 

Burgers are available, as well as a spaghetti and a noodle dish called Palabok Fiesta, a traditional Filipino dish covered in garlic sauce and sauteed in pork, shrimp and egg. The Jolly Spaghetti is made with a signature sweet-style sauce loaded with ground beef and hotdogs and topped with cheese. 

“We very much think of ourselves as fast food,” Bedell said. “That’s the objective of what we’re trying to offer. … We actually have a very large portion of our business that is dine-in. People come and they sit down. Eating at a Jollibee is somewhat of a special experience. Dining out for our core consumers is more than just picking up food and eating it on the go or in your car. It really is more of a communal experience. Jollibee is somewhere people go to gather and enjoy a meal together.” 

The dining rooms are regularly full of guests and that’s why Jollibee’s food doesn’t have to be quite as portable as its competitors. 


The brand’s fervently loyal fans will prompt the release of a loyalty program later this year. “Loyalty’s something we’ve been excited to do for a while now,” Bedell said. “We wouldn’t be here where we are today without our fans and the passion that they bring.” Word of mouth is Jollibee’s strongest form of advertising. 

The brand just celebrated its 25th year in North America, and as part of its 25th anniversary campaign, they did “joy drops” by giving away coupons, surprise merchandise giveaways and even a contest for a trip to the Philippines. Showing back the appreciation and love that consumers have for Jollibee is important to the brand. 

Jollibee has all the tech in place to be successful in the marketplace, including online ordering and digital menu boards, but it is looking at ways to increase its tech stack to be more efficient for both customers and employees. That includes working on a pilot for kiosks to make ordering seamless and give customers more opportunity to customize and explore the menu. In the drive thru, Jollibee is looking for ways to bring in technology. It already has dual-lane drive-thrus, but they’re looking at ways to mobilize online ordering through the drive-thrus and more digital-style order taking. They’re working on online ordering to integrate it with the website more natively and optimize the controls that a customer has when looking at menu items. 

“Digital has been a key growth driver for us ever since we’ve implemented it,” Bedell said. “Going into the pandemic, the digital transformation for the entire industry was radical, but it has not stopped being a critical growth driver for us, and so we continue to focus on how we can make that an even more enjoyable and seamless experience.” 

As a brand coming from oversees, Jollibee has faced its share of challenges. First it had to build awareness. Bedell said Jollibee knows when people taste the food, it gets a great response. They’ve been focused on ways to reinforce that organically and authentically. 

Remaining authentic to its Filipino heritage has also been challenging as it enters and competes in the U.S. market. “Our food is really a universal offering,” Bedell explained. “There’s really something for everyone.” 

There are about 15 units expected to open this year, and Jollibee is currently seeking franchise partners. Finding franchisees that will uphold the same high standards for which the brand is known will be paramount to expansion success. “The business is in a really great place right now,” Bedell said. “We’ve really cracked the code for how it works in the North American market to the point that now we do feel confident we have a great business model to roll out with new partners.” 

Source: QSR Web 

Subscribe and stay on top of the latest franchise news!