Filipino fast-food chain Jollibee an instant hit in Dubai

Excited customers who are devoted to the Filipino fast-food chain have been lining up for hours to eat at the Dubai Mall location, the first in a planned expansion.

The Jollibee outlet in Dubai Mall has a separate token counter to help customers with ordering. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
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Dubai resident Rosalie Edra promised her 8-year-old son that she would treat him to Chicken Joy at the newly opened Jollibee fast-food outlet at ­The ­Dubai Mall if he scored high in his school tests. Even if that meant waiting in line for several hours, which is what excited customers devoted to the Filipino fast-food chain have been facing ever since the first in a series of UAE outlets opened there last month.

“I told him we’d eat at Jollibee at the weekend and I couldn’t backtrack because he was so excited,” says the 38-year-old ­mother from the Philippines.

On Saturday, she and her son arrived at Jollibee, which is sandwiched between KFC and MerCurries in the food court, at 10am to find they weren’t the only ones who had planned to queue early. The Jollibee line stretched to the back of the seating area, where a token booth has been installed to create systematic ordering.

Clutching a token with the number 0364 on it, Edra and her son Russell still hadn’t been able to place their order two-and-a-half hours later.

“We didn’t come when it opened because we had heard about the rush,” she says.

“But being from the Philippines, where this is so famous, we will wait no matter how long it takes.”

Jollibee Foods Corp is the Philippines’ largest fast-food company, outselling McDonald’s and KFC in South East Asian countries. The most popular items on their menu are Chicken Joy, Steak Burger and Jollibee Spaghetti. This year, the Jollibee network hit 2,933 stores worldwide. The company plans to open 330 more outlets, including those in Canada and the UAE.

Although the first official outlet in Dubai opened in 1995, it was shut without a reason.

“I’ve eaten Jollibee in the Philippines and it was yummy,” said Russell, as he patiently waited. “I can’t wait to try it out here.”

Brothers Jonas and Dr Rommel Sergio waited for three hours before a Jollibee attendant escorted them to the counter to place their order.

“We miss Filipino food here,” says Rommel. “I think that’s why there is such a hype around Jollibee at the moment.”

Despite having to queue for four hours during his first visit, Maritez Indencio was back on Saturday for more.

“I’m hooked. I’ve been eating this back home and it is addictive,” says the 28-year-old.

Christy Catolico, 32, brought her MP3 player and a friend along to keep her company for the wait, which had already reached two hours. “We knew it would take this long,” says Catolico. “We were eating Jollibee as kids. So I think it is worth the wait.”

She says its distinct “Filipino flavours” are unmatched by other fast-food outlets. “That taste is something other outlets cannot recreate,” says Catolico.

“A bit sweet, with the right amount of spice and meat, and not too salty.”