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Jollibee, the Philippines's largest fast-food chain, holds the distinction of having vanquished McDonald's in the Philippines — it's the only chain to have done so anywhere in the world, so the legend goes. It did this not so much by copying the McDonald's menu, but by adjusting its products to suit the taste of Filipinos — a strategy that, for some reason, McDonald's failed to do even when it was clear that it was being stung.
This week, many Filipinos were understandably proud that Jollibee opened its first store in New York. Although there are Jollibee stores elsewhere in the U.S. where many Filipinos live, its entry into New York was significant perhaps because New York — Queens to be exact — is much more culturally diverse than, say, Daly City in California, where a fourth of the population is Filipino.
The early reviews weren't raves, but they were encouraging. The New York Times said Jollibee's peach-mango pie "is worth the wait." The Village Voice called its visit to the restaurant "a fun excursion."
It is perhaps worth pointing out that Jollibee isn't just moving in to McDonald's territory. The company, one of the largest in Asia, is putting up stores in other countries as well. It already has 10 stores in Vietnam and promises to build more. The company also has other store brands (Chow King, Chinese food; Greenwich, pizza and pasta; Red Ribbon, cakes and pastries) that are expanding around the world, particularly where Filipinos are present. In China, it bought a local fast-food chain, Yonghe King.
To many Filipino migrants, the sight of the Jollibee mascot — a bee in a loud red and yellow suit — must be quite comforting, no matter that on its menu there's only one food item (the Palabok Fiesta — rice noodles with sweet sauce and fish flakes, pork, shrimp and a slice of boiled egg) can be considered truly Filipino.
Ronald McDonald must be sulking right about now.