The excited crowd, made up mostly of Filipinos hungry for a taste of their homeland, came from all over the GTA to a suburban Scarborough plaza.
Jaren Kerr of Toronto Star Newspapers online portal thestar.com wrote, thousands were seen waiting to get into Ontario’s first Jollibee -- the “McDonald’s of the Philippines.”
A Jollibee theme song blasted from the speakers, and the Jollibee mascot (a bright red “jolly bee”) buzzed around the parking lot, taking photos with smiling customers.
Inside the bright restaurant, a row of bustling employees lined the counter, stacking gravy containers, organizing food on trays and filling takeout bags with their famous fried chicken, Filipino spaghetti, palabok and mango peach pies. Those who took food home took a lot.
Billy Moreno, a Scarborough native, arrived at 6 a.m. with his friends. Moreno had fried chicken and a burger steak, “with lots of course of gravy, of course.”
“Their gravy is their signature, it’s unique,” Moreno said.
He said the quality at the Toronto location matches that of the Philippines, and he plans to visit the new location often.
Krysta Salera woke up before 4 a.m. to come to Jollibee, making the trip from Oakville. She ordered almost everything on the menu.
“I haven’t had a burger steak in five years, since I went to California,” she said.
Salera said Jollibee is a special place for many Filipinos.
“I would say it’s almost cultural,” she said. “You know how McDonald’s is (associated with) America? That’s Jollibee for us.”
For Angelo Sugue, 30, who moved here from the Philippines in 1997, it was all about nostalgia.
“I was also a little kid when I had my first Jollibee spaghetti,” Sugue said. “People would bring it to birthday parties and other special events in the Philippines. The ground beef and hot sauce in the spaghetti is what makes it so good.”
Mcdonalds in the Philippines also serves the cultural favourite of sweet spaghetti, “but it’s not good” as Jollibee’s, he said.
Jose Miñana, who oversees North American operations for Jollibee, said he expected the massive turnout.
“They’ve been waiting for years,” he said. “When we opened our Winnipeg location, people drove from Toronto to have it.”
Jollibee has roughly 1,300 locations around the world, but the outlet in Toronto’s east end is the first in Ontario, despite the area’s large Filipino community.
Miñana said part of the reason for picking the location, at Kenndy Rd. and Ellesmere Rd., was that strong Filipino presence.
“We look for a density of Filipinos, but we try to make sure it’s accessible to Filipinos and non-Filipinos,” he said. “This is how (Filipinos) grew up, it’s part of their culture, but it’s for anybody to enjoy.”
The Filipino population near the Scarborough location is significant, with 12.9 per cent of people in the census tract hailing from the island.
In the coming months, a location will open in Mississauga, which also has heavy pockets of Filipino residents.