Philly food and drink scene

Chickenjoy! Filipino cult fave Jollibee is opening a Philly location

Known for its fried chicken and spaghetti meals, the chain is on a U.S. expansion tear.

jollibees-bucketfriedchickenspaghetti
Jollibees / Facebook
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A gem of Asian and Pacific Islander cuisine has set its sights on Northeast Philly, and should open its first location in the city by fall of next year.

Filipino fast-food chain Jollibee will be part of what the Philadelphia Business Journal reported will be a more than $50 million redevelopment project at the site of the former Sears in the Great Northeast Plaza.

The Jollibee will be in a new standalone building at the intersection of Bustleton and Cottman avenues, complete with a drive-thru and parking, according to Jon Kieserman, senior vice president at real estate firm Colliers International, which brokered the deal.

If openings in other North American cities are any indication, it’s safe to assume Philadelphians already familiar with the chain are going to rejoice.

Founded in the Philippines in 1978, where it’s as ubiquitous as McDonald’s is here, Jollibee is known for its “chickenjoy” fried chicken, described in marketing copy as “delicately hand-breaded to be crispylicious on the outside, with a secret marinade making it juicylicious on the inside.”

Jollibee’s chickenjoy meals — often served with rice and gravy or sweet-style, hot-dog-topped spaghetti and peach-mango pies — have earned it a global cult following.

When the Manhattan location launched in 2018, for example, fans of the Filipino food waited for hours in a Nor’easter for a taste. The chain has around 1300 locations worldwide, and 37 in the United States. All are corporate-owned.

The first U.S. Jollibee popped up in California in 1998. More than two decades later, the closest location to Philly is in Jersey City. That will change by the end of next year, said broker Keiserman.

Kieserman said he’s been working with the chain for a couple years, looking for the right location. “This is the first that checked all the boxes,” he told Billy Penn.

Construction is expected to begin this winter on the restaurant, which will be down the street from the Roosevelt Mall. The former Sears, which closed in 2018 when the brand shut down 100 stores, is being repurposed into a multi-unit site. The string of shops there might eventually include Jollibee bakery concept Red Ribbon, Kieserman said.

Southeast Pennsylvania is home to about 20k Filipinos, many of whom live in Northeast Philly, per an Inquirer report. The city has seen a surge in options for Filipino cuisine over the past few years.

Before it shuttered in July due to economic impacts of the pandemic, Lalo served traditional Filipino foods like lumpia from a nook in the Bourse. Proprietors Neal Santos, Resa Mueller, and Jillian Encarnacion also ran Pelago, a pop-up kusina (Tagalog for kitchen).

Chef Raquel Villanueva operates Tita Emmie’s, a private dinner service that, before COVID, brought groups of perfect strangers together around a table to explore Filipino food.

And near 46th Street and Woodland Ave., Kusina Philly serves up authentic Filipino food and drink.

Jollibee’s soon-to-come Northeast Philly outpost likely won’t be the last one locally, Kieserman said, and a Center City location could be in the cards.

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