Frank Cabugon sat back in his seat on a recent afternoon at the new Jollibee fast-food restaurant and recalled his reaction when he heard the popular chain from the Philippines planned to open at the Westfield Southcenter Mall in Tukwila.
“I was ecstatic,” said Cabugon, of Seattle. “Most of the Filipinos live in San Francisco and Los Angeles where they have Jollibee’s. We needed a place for Filipinos in the Pacific Northwest.”
Cabugon and many other Filipinos are thrilled that Jollibee opened in September on the northeast side of the mall near JC Penney. Now they can enjoy the food the chain has become known for, including fried chicken, burgers, spaghetti, noodles, hot dogs, desserts and even breakfast.
“Jollibee is one of the most dominant fast food chains among Filipinos,” Cabugon said. “It’s Filipino-owned. You can find them in the U.S., Vietnam and Dubai. Where Filipinos are, you will find the fast-food joints.”
Jollibee began the mid-1970s and now has more than 700 stores worldwide, including 600 in the Philippines, according to the company Web site. The chain has more than two dozen stores in the U.S., mostly in Northern and Southern California, with one each in New York and Las Vegas.
The company started in 1975 as an ice cream parlor in the Philippines. The first U.S. store opened in 1998 in Daly City, Calif.
Word spread quickly among residents about the new Tukwila location.
“It’s great; it’s been very, very busy,” said Buboy Alcantara, a shift supervisor and one of the 70 employees at Jollibee’s. “There are a lot of Filipinos here in this area.”
Alcantara came to Tukwila from California for a couple of months to help start the new store after working 18 months for the company in Northern California.
The menu that features items such as Chickenjoy, Yumburgers, Jollibee Spaghetti and Palabok Fiesta is similar to what the restaurant serves in the Philippines. Meal prices range from $4 to $8.
“It’s pretty much the same, but there are more products in the Philippines,” Alcantara said.
Cabugon has eaten at Jollibee in the Philippines.
“The taste is pretty similar,” Cabugon said.
Jun and Helen Sante, of Renton, eat often at Jollibee.
“It’s No. 1 in the Philippines,” Helen Sante said. “The food is so awesome. Chickenjoy is one of my favorites. And the burger steak.”
People pack the restaurant on weekends, drawing customers from as far away as Vancouver, B.C.
In fact, Helen Sante shared how a friend of her daughter’s let them know last month that she would be coming down from Canada so she could go to the restaurant.
“She sent a Facebook message that she would be here at Jollibee’s,” Sante said.
Jollibee joins several other popular Asian and Filipino stores at Southcenter, including Seafood City Supermarket, Red Ribbon bakery, Chowking restaurant and Tokyo Tokyo restaurant.
Alcantara explained why so many Filipinos enjoy coming to Jollibee and the other nearby stores.
“It feels like home, like they are in the Philippines,” he said.
What: Jollibee restaurant
Where: Westfield Southcenter Mall, Tukwila
Hours: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
Web site: www.jollibeeusa.com