Jollibee's ChickenJoy bucket is filled with lightly battered, crispy crust drumsticks and thighs Credit: Walden Green for Billy Penn

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Until recently, if you knew what a ChickenJoy was and had a craving for one, an hour’s drive to New Jersey or Maryland stood in your way.

Now, no longer: Pennsylvania’s first-ever Jollibee location is open in Northeast Philadelphia.

The beloved Filipino chain, which has 64 outposts across the U.S., joins Philly’s bevy of fried chicken standbys. This is the home of Federal Donuts, after all, and Louisiana favorite Raising Cane’s also just arrived. But only Jollibee was named “the best fried chicken in America” this year by Eater.

Philly’s sole branch can be found at 7340 Bustleton Ave. in the Great Northeast Plaza shopping complex near Oxford Circle.

Before the store’s official opening, Senior Vice President of Marketing Luis Velasco spoke with Billy Penn about the history of the brand, what makes the food unique, and how Jollibee has managed to become a phenomenon beyond the Filipino community.

“We don’t want eating to be just functional,” Velasco told Billy Penn. “The joy of eating is something we want people to experience or discover.”

Thanks to its following, this new location is sure to be a big deal for both devoted followers and the soon-to-be-devoted.

Ready to become a convert? Read on for details.

Philly’s first Jollibee at 7340 Bustleton Ave. in the Great Northeast Plaza Credit: Walden Green for Billy Penn

What makes it special

Google categorizes Jollibee as a “chicken restaurant,” which makes sense — it’s what gets them in the news — but that only represents a portion of the menu’s offerings. There are also Filipino staples like pancit palabok (“Fiesta Noodles”), corned beef with garlic rice, and the iconic Jolly Spaghetti.

That said, most people come for the chicken, which you can order in bucket or sandwich form.

The aptly named ChickenJoy bucket includes drumsticks and thighs battered either “regular” or as a rather unimposing “spicy.” The crust is airy and crisp without any excess grease, and the meat itself is moist and about as flavorful as chicken can get. It all comes together with the dipping gravy, which creates a near-irresistible combo of sweetness and umami savoriness.

Compared with their decadent competition, the chicken sandwiches can feel a bit limp by comparison, but the real draw of a trip to Jollibee is their dessert, anway. I’m talking about the peach mango pie.

The hand pies are made with mangos from the Philippines, which Velasco called “probably the sweetest mangos in the world.” One bite through the flaky, buttery crust to the center of the pastry and it’s clear he’s not exaggerating.

Rule of thumb: always grab an extra pie for the road. You won’t regret it.

The peach mango pie is made with fruit from the Philippines Credit: Walden Green for Billy Penn

How it came to be

Jollibee has been around in one form or another for almost half a century, and its core values have stayed the same: joy, hard work, and consistency.

“The founders wanted a name that would symbolize a couple of things,” Velasco said. “Bees are a hardworking animal. But they didn’t want people to be hardworking only; they wanted people to be happy doing what they do.”

Tony Ton and his family opened the first Jollibee as an ice cream parlor in Metro Manila, the city center of the Philippines’ capital. Fried chicken and burgers came soon after.

There’s a backstory behind the chain’s oft-memed mascot, a bee named Jolly Bee. Inspired by Disney cartoons, his chef’s hat apparently showcases a passion for food, while his bowtie symbolizes the caliber of service diners can expect.

The Northeast Philly location has been in the works for a year and a half, and ever since it was announced, “[We’d] been getting a lot of requests — demands, really,” to open sooner, Velasco said.

Jollibee’s dedicated Philly fanbase doesn’t have to wait any longer.

The author and the mascot, the Jolly Bee Credit: Walden Green for Billy Penn

What it means for the neighborhood

The local Filipino community had an overwhelming response to the announcement of a Philly Jollibee. “We feel their passion and energy and excitement for us coming here,” said Velsaco.

Before Billy Penn spoke with the marketing VP, several Filipino community leaders visited for the blessing of the store. A symbol of good luck for homes in the Philippines, every Jollibee store is blessed before opening because “we like to think that the restaurant is a new home for them,” Velasco explained.

During the store’s official opening day, there was a ribbon cutting ceremony, plus coin and candy throwing-another Filipino tradition.

Jollibee has spurred a rabid and niche fandom, especially on the East Coast. At other openings, campouts became an internet phenomenon. Per Velasco, the longest someone’s ever waited in line is three days.

But for anyone whose commitment isn’t quite at that level, Jollibee still represents an upgrade to the standard Wendy’s and Taco Bell fare in the same complex.

Breakfast? Lunch? Dinner? Jollibee Philadelphia is open 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week Credit: Walden Green for Billy Penn

What to expect when you go

When you step inside this Jollibee, prepare to be greeted by a six-foot-tall statue of the Jolly Bee himself, eyes wide and a smile plastered across his face.

The store’s walls are emblazoned with the chain’s slogans (“crispylicious, juicylicious,” “joy in every bite,” and so on) and signs that depict the mascot’s “travels” across the globe.

You’ll order and pay at the counter, then have a seat at one of the tables or stand to the side if you’re taking your food to-go. Jollibee also has a drive-thru option.

A 10-piece ChickenJoy will run you $16.49, or you can opt for the Family Bundle, which includes a bucket plus three large sides for $22. A chicken sandwich deluxe — and you should definitely get the deluxe — is $5.49, and Jolly Spaghetti is $4.39 for a single serving. Peach mango pies are $2.19 each, and will only appreciate in value over time.

Velasco guarantees that Jollibee’s standard of quality holds up across every single location.

“It’s one thing to have a good recipe; it’s another thing to execute it well consistently,” he said. “It’s the same ChickenJoy sandwich that you taste all over.”

Jollibee Philadelphia is open 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week.