Toronto

Toronto fried chicken fans camp out overnight for a taste of Filipino favourite

Thousands of new restaurants open each year in the GTA. Few of them have customers camped outside for 17 hours to get a taste as soon as doors open.

'It's very big in the Philippines. And opening this in Toronto, it's a huge thing,' said one customer

Jollibee, an institution in the Philippines, now has three locations in Canada — one in Toronto and two in Winnipeg. (Paul Smith/CBC)

Thousands of new restaurants open each year in the GTA. Few of them have customers camped outside for 17 hours to get a taste as soon as doors open.

But wind, rain and icy temperatures weren't enough to keep people away from the Toronto opening of Jollibee, a favourite of devoted Filipino fans around the world. 

In the Philippines, Jollibee is more of a national institution than a chicken joint.

"Since I was a child, I loved Jollibee," said Evelene Isanan, who lined up with friends on Easter Sunday morning at the Scarborough location. There's another opening planned for Mississauga. The only other city in Canada where you can order the fried chicken, mango peach pie or "Jolly Spaghetti" is Winnipeg, home to two Jollibee restaurants. 

Evelene Isanan drove from Mississauga to Scarborough with some friends to stand in line before the 7 a.m. opening on Sunday. (Paul Smith/CBC)

"It's like our family's — no, actually, like the whole Philippines — it's our national restaurant," Isanan said. "It's a group thing, and a family thing, of course."

Friends Mark Koh and Patrick Dooc lined up at 3 p.m. on Saturday, way in advance of the Sunday 7 a.m. opening. 

"He called me up and said: 'Let's line up. We got to get the first bucket,'" said Koh, who was already back in line for his second bucket of fried chicken when he spoke to CBC Toronto. 

Something resembling a food cult has emerged around the chain's fried chicken. (Paul Smith/CBC)

"I packed up everything and we went here," he laughed. 

Koh said he grew up in the Philippines, moving to Canada at age 12. It had been a decade or more since he'd tasted Jollibee.

"So I had to be here, and be one of the first people to have it here."

Mark Koh, left, and Patrick Dooc, lined up Saturday afternoon for some fried chicken. (Paul Smith/CBC)

Years of speculation

Dooc has been waiting, too, for a Jollibee to finally arrive in the GTA after years of rumours that an opening was imminent. He stressed that the intercontinental chain's menu can appeal to all kinds of gourmands, not only those with a Filipino palate. 

"Manila to Toronto, it has landed. If you're not Filipino, you should try it. You'll taste the Philippines," he said. 

Jollibee's second-most talked about menu item is a dish the chain calls 'Jolly Spaghetti.' (Paul Smith/CBC)

The pair said the overnight wait was a price worth paying.

"We're going to taste it together like best friends," Koh said. 

Jollibee has some 1,000 restaurants in the Philippines, and more than 35 in the United States.

The Jollibee mascot is a fan favourite in the Philippines. (Paul Smith/CBC)

Paul Magbujos, who lined up with his wife and some other family members, compared Jollibee's arrival to a "festivity" years in the making. 

"It's very big in the Philippines. And opening this in Toronto, it's a huge thing," he said. 

Paul Magbujos used the phrase 'crispalicious' to describe the fried chicken. (Paul Smith/CBC)

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