A Filipino favorite, Jollibee aims for international growth

Jollibee opened a Manhattan location in late October near Times Square as part of a North American expansion strategy.Allyson Escobar / NBC News

By Allyson Escobar and Saleah Blancaflor/nbcnews.com – It’s been called the “McDonald’s of the Philippines,” and the late Anthony Bourdain dubbed it “the wackiest, jolliest place on earth.”

Jollibee, a fast food chain based in the Philippines, has become one of the world’s largest restaurant franchises, with more than 4,000 stores in 23 countries, including 37 in the United States. (For comparison, McDonald’s has more than 37,000 worldwide and 14,000 in the U.S.)

Known for its fried chicken, sweet spaghetti and “Aloha burger,” Jollibee serves fast-food with a Filipino twist: The spaghetti, for instance, includes cheese and mini hot dogs, and the fried chicken is meant to be eaten with rice and gravy.

While Jollibee first came to the U.S. in 1998, opening locations in areas with large Asian populations including California, Hawaii and Illinois, the company’s latest investments and openings, including one near Manhattan’s Times Square, are part of a new strategy that the company hopes will make it one of the “top five restaurant companies in the world.”

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