The crowd started showing up the night before the soft opening of Filipino restaurant chain Jollibee’s re-entry into the Guam market. By the time it opened as a stand-alone building within the Micronesia Mall complex, the number of people who lined up had risen to close to 1,000 by Saturday morning.
Jorwan Palma, 21, was among a group of friends in their late teens and early 20s who joined the line at midnight.
“We wanted to camp out,” Palma said after he and his friends ordered their favorites – spaghetti with sweet sauce and fried chicken called Chickenjoy. They’ve tried Jollibee products during visits to the Philippines so they knew exactly what to order.
Josh Eobadilla, 21, said, "There’s something about the sweet spaghetti that I really like. … It’s the culture.”
“It touches the soul,” a friend, Ben Mogul, 21, cut in.
"Yeah,” everyone in the group agreed, with a laugh.
With nearly one in four Guam residents with ties to the Philippines or who have Filipino heritage, Jollibee offers a connection to a go-to food from the homeland. When Jollibee opened in New York’s Times Square, Filipinos braved snowfall; so it wasn't unexpected when rain poured early Saturday morning and later when it became humid in the midday sun on Guam, Guamanians who lined up for a taste of Jollibee didn’t budge.
Joseph Chua, president of Philippine billionaire Lucio Tan’s Guam-based Goodwind Development, which is the landlord to Jollibee, said he didn’t expect the level of turnout during the soft opening. Chua’s family also is the Guam franchisee for Jollibee.
“I’m very surprised with the support for Jollibee,” Chua said.
Mogul, from the group lined up at midnight and who was born in the Philippines, said it’s a taste of home. “I was basically growing up with Jollibee,” Mogul said.
Entire families – from grandchildren to grandparents – showed up.
“I think it’s the sense of family,” said Mario Palisoc, general manager for the Philippine National Bank's Guam branch, on what draws crowds to the world-famous Filipino restaurant brand. He joined the many guests for the soft opening.
Juana and Quincy Tolliver II, the parents of two young boys, Dominic and Quincy III, also showed up at Jollibee’s soft opening. The boys are featured on their Instagram account as "fashion influencers" and have more than 65,800 followers.
Juana Tolliver’s early favorite was a burger with a thick slice of pineapple called “Amazing Aloha Yumburger.”
“I’ve never had pineapple in my burger (and) it was really good,” she said.
Philip Schrage, senior vice president of group operations and leasing at Goodwind Development, whose flagship is the Micronesia Mall, said when Guam residents see a good consumer brand, they show up in full force.
He said the crowd at Jollibee’s opening Saturday reminded him of the opening of Macy’s at the Micronesia Mall decades ago when people also camped out overnight. He also remembered that during the more recent opening of ROSS Dress for Less at the mall, the retailer made a record as having posted the most sales for an opening day in any ROSS store across the country.
"This was an exciting day for both Jollibee and our many fans in Guam who have awaited the opening of our store here," Dennis Flores, Jollibee Foods Corporation president and head of international business, said in a statement.
Jollibee tried the Guam market about two decades ago, but its presence and timing were off. It wasn’t a stand-alone restaurant and its opening occurred as the island was struggling in the midst of the Asian financial crisis that rippled through the island.
This time, Guam’s Jollibee fans are giving the brand a second chance.
The Guam store is the 38th Jollibee store to open on American soil. Jollibee operates in 21 countries, with more than 4,500 stores globally.