Filipino fast-food chain Jollibee opens first Vancouver restaurant
'It's a big deal for us. We've been eating this since we were little.'
Hundreds lined up in downtown Vancouver on Friday, eager to get a taste of the city's first Jollibee's fried "Chickenjoy," palabok noodles and popular spaghetti.
The renowned Filipino fast-food chain opened its first outlet in B.C. Friday on Granville Street in downtown Vancouver.
And as happened when it opened locations in other Canadian cities, the anticipation saw fans lining up for hours, some overnight, in the shadow of the chain's iconic mascot — a bee wearing a chef's hat and bow tie.
"It feels like home," explained Nylette Ilustre, who is originally from Cavite, Philippines. "It's a big deal for us. We've been eating this since we were little.
"I've been going to Toronto; every time I come back I always fill my luggage with Jollibee."
Jollibee is one of the Philippines' most cherished restaurant chains, renowned particularly for its fried chicken and spaghetti, a fact that was confirmed by many people waiting in the Vancouver lineup Friday.
.<a href="https://twitter.com/JollibeeCanada?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@JollibeeCanada</a> PR rep told me it's like this at every store opening <a href="https://t.co/x0KFD8ipLy">pic.twitter.com/x0KFD8ipLy</a>—@gpsmendoza
Founded in 1978, the chain now has more than 1,400 outlets around the world, although it took 20 years to open its first North American location in California.
B.C. is the fifth province in Canada to get one, with seven branches already operating in the Greater Toronto Area, five in Alberta, and others in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
Metro Vancouver is home to more than 123,000 people of Filipino ancestry, according to the 2016 Census. At five per cent of the city's population, that's more than double the community's share of Canada's population.
For many Vancouverites with ties to the Philippines, a Jollibee opening has been long wished for, particularly among newer immigrants looking to make friends and connect with their homeland.
When Nashreen Bautista first moved to Vancouver from the Philippines six months ago, she said she struggled to find a place that reminded her of home where she could share food with like-minded people.
"I was literally looking for any sign of Filipino culture," she recalled. "Jollibee is actually my childhood."
So when she heard one was opening in Vancouver, she and several friends "woke up so early" to line up.
"For Filipinos, it's more than a food for us," she explained. "It's how we unite with each other."
'A victory for the Filipino-Canadian community'
"We've waited for a long time for this to open finally," said Ramon Padilla. "We can taste again the Jollibee food from the Philippines."
He said his favourite items are the restaurant's palabok noodles, fried Chickenjoy and spaghetti.
For Zekie Ramirez, the experience is "like a home away from home."
As he waited in line, he recalled instances during his childhood when rumours of a Jollibee's opening would spread ... but never happen.
"All my Filipino friends ... we'd get all excited," he recalled. "Building the anticipation just made it a whole lot better. I feel this is a victory for the Filipino-Canadian community. It's just been a long time coming."
Harley Sanga said he would often traveled to Seattle to eat at the location there. He said he last ate at a Jollibee in 2019 in the Philippines.
"I'm a 'superfan,' 100 per cent," he said. "We all wanted it here for so long, so we don't have to travel all around the world."
Also lined up awaiting the grand opening was Paul Rulloda, who said the chain's spaghetti and chicken and gravy are his favourites.
"Every since I was four, since I was a baby, I've had their spaghetti," he told CBC News. "It feels so good that Jollibee came here and we finally have it."
With files from Ben Nelms and Gian-Paolo Mendoza