FFE Magazine

Philippine HiStory Today: How Jollibee came to Be

Kuya RolyGood day! I just took my grandchildren to their favourite restaurant… actually, to every Filipino’s favourite restaurant. Isn’t it amazing that no matter how old or young they are, rich or poor, born in far-flung towns or in big cities… born abroad even! Every one of us at least once in our life has been drawn to the pull of that jolly red bee around the corner.

 

I am talking about Jollibee, home of the incomparable Chickenjoy, the humble Yum! Burger and the crunchy Crispy Fries. My personal favourite is the Jolly Hotdog Classic: soft, meaty and quite appetising!

 

After spending the morning with the wife and the apos, I got to thinking about the story of this Filipino icon that has catered to almost every person with Filipino blood all over the world. Have you ever wondered why Jollibee is such a magical word to Filipino ears that it is the equivalent to the word ‘home’?

 

Let us find out, shall we?

 

The ice cream man

 

Can you imagine that Jollibee was founded by a man who sold ice cream for a living? Yes, before burgers and chicken meals there were two Magnolia ice cream franchises ran by Tony Tan Caktiong and his family. Cubao Ice Cream House and Quiapo Ice Cream House were set up in 1975.

 

Tony Tan, chairman and CEO of Jollibee Foods Corporation (JFC)

Tony Tan, chairman and CEO of Jollibee Foods Corporation (JFC)

 

The Caktiong family was a family of immigrants from Fujian, so they learned to manage the parlours through hands-on work. Soon, they had enough to hire managers and train people. In 1977, Tony expanded the menu of his parlours and included hamburgers and chicken.

 

A year and four more branches later, they noticed that people started lining up for their burgers more than their ice cream. So they asked ‘Why don’t we change into a hamburger house?’ And so they made the shift from ice creams to burgers, and this marked the moment the Caktiong’s fortunes changed for good. All they needed was a symbol to represent their business.

 

The birth of Jollibee

 

Impressed by Disney characters, Tony and his family decided to choose the bee as their brand mascot. 28 January 1978 — it was at this time that the jolly red mascot every Filipino recognises and the name of the brand were born: Jollibee.

 

Jollibee was the embodiment of the saying ‘busy as a bee,’ but their goal was also to bring happiness to Filipino eaters

Jollibee was the embodiment of the saying ‘busy as a bee,’ but their goal was also to bring happiness to Filipino eaters

 

Tony said bees produced honey because they were very busy. The honey represented sweet things in life. But they wanted the bee to be happy because they believed that if a person was unhappy, then being busy wasn’t worth it. This was why the family chose the bee: it reflected their values and the kind of business relation they wanted to build.

 

The Filipino touch

 

I want to say that the rest is history so I could start chowing down my second helping of Jolly Hotdog I brought home from the restaurant. But unfortunately for me, Jollibee’s story was just starting at that point in history because another jolly character was coming to town: this time he had fuzzy red hair and a red nose.

 

McDonald’s broke into the Philippine fastfood market in 1981 with a store in Morayta, Manila. McDonald’s was the it restaurant — it had that fresh smell of some big hit from the US, of course this got everyone curious! But — and here’s the big hurdle — McDonald’s came ready to serve American food to Filipino people, and Filipinos are very picky with their food.

A fan art showing the never-ending battle of the Philippine fast food industry between giants Jollibee and McDonald’s

A fan art showing the never-ending battle of the Philippine fast food industry between giants Jollibee and McDonald’s

 

Needless to say, Jollibee was sure of its foothold in the country despite big business like McDonald’s coming in from overseas. Why? Tony said his company new the secret of the Filipino taste. He knew that Filipinos liked their food sweet. This is the secret touch of Jollibee, the reason why we keep coming back for more: they knew what we wanted and they gave it to us with gusto!

 

Jollibee’s commercial featuring Sarah Geronimo as she describes the similarities between the famous Chickenjoy and the Filipino family. Makes you want to rush to the nearest restaurant to take a bite out of a juicy Chickenjoy drumstick!

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