Fans craving Filipino fried chicken and sweet spaghetti braved rain, wind, and winter temperatures ahead of the first Jollibee opening in Arizona on the morning of Saturday, December 28. The line of families and friends camping in front of the Chandler location wrapped around the block and through the drive-thru lane. Jollibee set up shop inside the former Slim Chickens location at 2800 East Germann Road.
With the smell of chicken frying and rice steaming, fans bonded over childhood memories of birthdays, christenings, and graduation parties held at Jollibee or catered by the iconic fast food chain from the Philippines.
Jeff Serrano said his family started waiting in line Thursday night because, he says, his wife really loves Jollibee. “When she was pregnant with our youngest one, she had those crazy pregnancy cravings,” Serrano says. “So we drove from here to Vegas, just to satisfy her Chickenjoy craving.”
Jollibee built a fast food empire on buckets of Chickenjoy: crispy drumsticks and breast pieces, packed with spices and juicy white meat.
Serrano, his wife, Joy, and the rest of their family from San Tan Valley and Chandler carried handmade signs with the red and white Jollibee mascot with the white chef’s hat. They also added the seal of Guam, where they lived until about five years ago. The Chandler restaurant was offering exclusive Funko Pop! Jollibee dolls to customers with unique banners and posters.
“When we go to the Philippines, we usually treat our whole family to Jollibee and no joke, most of my mom's side would come out just so we can treat them,” Joy says. “So that's like the best memories you can have. Let's be honest — it's cheap and it tastes good — and all the kids are happy, too.”
Lucia Ecidra and her family also made the drive to Vegas for their Jollibee fix before the Chandler location opened. They used to live in Hawaii before moving to Avondale. “We're excited that there's one here, even if we live an hour away,” Ecidra says. “Jollibee reminds us of home and of my grandparents. They’re from the Philippines. They used to cook chicken that almost tasted like Jollibee.”
The first 50 customers in line scored a year’s supply of Chickenjoy. Brenda Mengan started waiting outside the Jollibee doors with her family on Christmas Day. Before Arizona, her family lived in the province of Pangasinan, about three hours north of the capital city of Manila.
“It’s been fun and we could spend more time with our friends,” Mengan says. “It just reminds us of home and we’ve been looking forward to this for so long.”
Just in front of Mengan’s family was Irene Ballesteros-Shields, who was the very first customer in line. The east Mesa resident said she started waiting at 7 p.m. on Christmas Day because her family loved Chickenjoy and the Jolly Spaghetti, with its sweet tomato sauce with slices of hot dog and grated cheese.
“It's a good challenge and I wanted to do it for them,” Shields says.
Before the new Chandler location, people could enjoy Palabok Fiesta — with shrimp, chicharron crumbles, ground meat, and bihon noodles — and peach mango pie at 39 Jollibee locations in the United States. The Filipino food chain is on a mission to introduce more Americans to its addictive menu of sweet and savory flavors.
Beth Dela Cruz is president for JFC Philippine Brands Group in North America. She says more than 5,000 people lined up Saturday for the opening. Dela Cruz says Arizona’s large Filipino community is one of the reasons why the state is part of her company’s plans to expand Jollibee to at least 150 branches in the U.S. by 2023.
“We are eager to bring our fellow countrymen a ‘taste of home,'” Dela Cruz says. “We selected Chandler specifically as the location for our first store in Arizona as it’s a fast-growing business hub, boasting a mix of global companies and startups and has a significant number of Filipinos living within the city and surrounding areas.”
And Chandler has one of the largest Asian populations in Arizona. According to the latest numbers from the American Community Survey, more than 9 percent of Chandler residents identify as Asian. When it comes to specific Asian groups, Filipinos are among the top three growing communities in the city.
Jollibee’s appetite for expansion includes adding American food companies to its portfolio. Jollibee bought SmashBurger last year and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in July.
Back in Chandler, Joy Serrano starts a new Jollibee memory with her first bite of Chickenjoy.
“It’s what I’ve been expecting,” she says. “It’s even better because it’s fresh.”
Editor's note: This article has been updated from its original version.