LONDON - Filipinos trooped to Jollibee when it opened its first United Kingdom branch in London's Earl's Court on Saturday morning.
The London branch is Jollibee Food Corporation's second in Europe after it opened in Milan, Italy earlier this year. It adds to over 1,300 Jollibee stores worldwide.
Filipino patrons as well as curious foreigners lined up outside the store hours before the opening.
"This brings the taste of home even closer to them and I would like to congratulate Jollibee for bringing their first store in the UK," Philippine Ambassador to the United Kingdom Antonio Lagdameo said.
Jollibee branches outside the Philippines have been hugely popular among Filipino migrants who come to the store to get a taste and feel of home.
Michael Sison and his friend Reggie Derecho were the first in line when the store opened at 8 a.m.
Sison, a balloon artist, and Derecho, a caregiver, lined up for 17 hours just to eat Chickenjoy, burger steak and spaghetti.
As early birds, the two took home with them Jollibee dolls and other collectible items.
Sison said Jollibee executives warmly welcomed them too.
"Ang pagtanggap po nila parang feel at home po kami sa loob ng Jollibee, parang nasa Pilipinas po kami," said Sison.
(How they received us, we felt at home inside Jollibee, it was like we were in the Philippines.)
Ernesto Tanmantiong, CEO of Jollibee Foods Corporation, also took time out to welcome the youngest person in line, 7-week-old Gabrielle Francis.
Like Sison and Derecho, the baby was also given a Jollibee doll and other toys.
Just like in the Philippines, Jollibee's London branch will also serve its trademark Chickenjoy with rice, Jolly Spaghetti, and Yumburger among others.
“We are very excited because we will be able to provide the taste of home to our kababayans here as well as offering our products to the British people,” Tanmantiong said during the official launch Friday.
Reports say that an all-Filipino crew would man Jollibee's first London store.
The hit Filipino food chain said it would be aggressive with its UK expansion as it targets to open 25 more branches there in the next five years.
“We believe the fried chicken market in the UK is very big and we would like to be a major player in this market,” Tanmantiong said.
“There is a strong match between the strength of Jollibee, the Chickenjoy and the potential of the market here in Europe,” added Dennis Flores, Jollibee's president and head for International Business in Europe, Middle East, Asia and Australia EMEAA.
There are over 200,000 Filipinos in the United Kingdom and over 800,000 Filipinos spread across Europe, according to a 2013 report of the Commission on Filipino Overseas. - with a report from Rose Eclarinal, ABS-CBN News