Article and photos by Quay Evano
Photo credit to EJ Negre
For Calgary’s Filipinos, the long wait is over. Jollibee opened its first store in Calgary Sept. 20.
Hundreds of Filipinos and people of all ethnic backgrounds camped out and lined up two days before the grand opening at the Pacific Place Mall in the northeast. Some came with foldable chairs, sleeping mats, pillows, and food for the long wait. A tent was set up for the customers to organize the crowds.
Calgarian, Tim Nixon, was the first person to line up at the store. He arrived on Wednesday night and didn't think that he'd be the first one in line.
"I kinda knew it was going to happen from what happened in Edmonton when they opened up there, so, I would give it a try,” Nixon says. “I have a Filipino girlfriend and when we were in Vegas about a year ago, we went to Jollibee there and it was good. It's definitely connected to the Philippines that's for sure. I didn't know how many people were going, but I'm quite surprised here with the turnout. It's been a year since I've tasted it so I'm looking forward to it here in about an hour when we get to try it again."
Jollibee, is the biggest Filipino fast food brand in the world, and is famous for menu items like Jolly Spaghetti, Chickenjoy, Big Yum Hamburger and Jollibee Pansit Palabok, among others.
The iconic brand started out in the Philippines 40 years ago and has since branched out all over the world with around 1,300 stores world wide.
The Calgary branch is the second Jollibee store in Alberta and the sixth in Canada. The first Alberta branch opened in Edmonton Aug. 16. A second branch in Calgary is set to open at McLeod Trail in 2020.
The grand opening was a dream come true for many Filipinos who haven't been home to the Philippines for years.
The last time Derek Agito ate at Jollibee was four years ago in the Philippines. As soon as he heard about the news of the grand opening in Calgary, he planned to line up and be one of the first customers, even if it meant not sleeping for days. He and his friend was the fifth and sixth in line.
"As in sobrang akong excited,” Agito says. “Sabi ko parang hindi na naming mami-miss ng sobra kasi meron na tayo dito na mag-oopen ng Jollibee. Sabi ko, parang alam mo iyong dati na ang layo layo bago mo matikman ang Jollibee, uuwi ka pa ng Pilipinas para matikman iyung Jollibee. Pero ito ngayon, abot kamay na, nandiyan na."
Two days later, Agito visited and lined up again with his daughter.
Some Filipinos even asked time off from work and school just to be able to be at the grand opening. Marvelous Ocenar wasn't sure if his boss would allow him to have a one-day leave of absence but he was so greatful that his boss did allow him. "May pasok po ako kahapon pero sabi ko pwede bang hindi na ako pumasok para diretso na ako sa Jollibee, pinayagan naman ako ng mga workmates ko kasi sabi ko dadalhan ko kayo ng Chickenjoy, ng Jolly crispy chicken ng isang bucket."
The Jollibee staff, managers and representatives from the Philippines and USA were overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support from Filipinos and non-Filipinos.
"Well, people who have actually migrated here in Canada or even in the US, they of course miss something from home and Jollibee is a big part of their lives back home,” says Maribeth dela Cruz, president of Jollibee's North America Operations. “So, it's just not the taste of home, but also the memories that come along with it and so that's what makes it really precious. Also beyond Filipino market, we've been growing our share of non-Filipinos who are very curious."
Dela Cruz adds that Jollibee is trying to expand where there are a lot of Filipinos in North America.
Luis Velasco, head of marketing, added it is encouraging to see Canadians responding with enthusiasm to Jollibee.
"We are overwhelmed by support from both our Filipino fans who love Jollibee even back in the Philippines and also locals who have heard about Jollibee, read about Jollibee and wanted to have a taste of Jollibee,” Velasco says. “In fact, in Edmonton last month our very first customer who lined up for three days for the opening was a local. Today, two days before the opening, it's another local who wants to have a taste of Jollibee. So, it's very inspiring for us to see that."