Anticipation is growing in Edmonton for the opening of the city’s first Jollibee — a massive fast fast-food chain from the Philippines that is quickly expanding across Canada.
The location just off Calgary Trail and 38 Avenue in south Edmonton doesn’t even open until Friday at 7 a.m., but already on Wednesday morning a crowd had begun to line up in anticipation of Filipino treats — and Jordan Haworth was first in line.
“It’s going to be great,” the 26-year-old said from his lawn chair outside the business. Haworth started camping out Tuesday around 9 a.m. The next morning, more people joined him and the group got bigger.
He is a man on a mission to follow in his mom’s footsteps after she took a recent trip to the Philippines.
It all started when his mom told him how she explored the Philippines by hiking a mountain, getting a tattoo and even tasting some of the local cuisine which she “raved” about.
“So I was like, ‘I am going to go get some of this chicken she’s talking about and some of the food.’ I’ll be the first one,” Haworth said.
The Filipino fast-food giant’s menu contains items that may be news to some Canadian palates: known as “the McDonald’s of the Philippines,” the restaurant has diverse offerings such as fried chicken, sweet-style spaghetti sauce and noodles, and peach mango pie.
Jollibee store openings have been known to draw large crowds as fans and newcomers alike line up for a chance to try the unique food. Even in December in Winnipeg, dozens of people braved the cold weather for a taste of the Philippines.
WATCH: Jollibee opens in Winnipeg in 2016
The company said although Jollibee is wildly popular among Filipino-Canadians, the brand also attracts foodies, curious locals and families.
So far, Haworth has had no concerns with being outside for so long, as he’s had some help from the company throughout his wait.
“They’re bringing me food, coffee, anything I need. Asking me if I need security when I sleep. All sorts of really nice things,” he said.
Throughout this experience, he has gained new friends and even started a group-chat called the Bee-Hive. He said even if the food isn’t all it’s hyped up to be — the anticipation alone has made waiting outside worth his time.
Zabih Davary-Diaz was also waiting in line and got to learn what the franchise means to Filipino people.
“I’ve heard stories — childhood stories about coming back home and meeting family at Jollibee’s. So truly for me, it seems more like a cultural exchange.
“It’s the taste of the Philippines coming to Canada and for a lot of people it’s the taste of home coming to them.”
The Philippines was the No. 1 country of birth of recent immigrants to Canada, according to figures from Statistic Canada’s 2016 census, with 188,805 people or 15.6 per cent of all recent immigrants being born there.
Jollibee already has four locations in Canada, including two in the Toronto area and two in Winnipeg.
The company has aggressive expansion plans, with the goal of opening 100 restaurants in the country over the next five years. Filipino food is seeing a rise in visibility with several higher-end Filipino restaurants opening in recent years, as well as a major grocery store catering to cooks of the cuisine.
Founded in the Philippines in 1975, Jollibee now has over 1,000 restaurants worldwide.
The company is providing incentives to those who line up early: it’s awarding one year’s supply of Jolly Crispy Chicken to the first 50 people in line who make a purchase of $25 or more worth of food.
It is also giving away Jollibee Funko Pop! figures to people carrying the unique banners or posters with the hashtag #ItsOurTurn.