The 'McDonald's of the Philippines' opens a rare U.S. outpost here

Eating on the Edge: The fast-food chain Jollibee, ubiquitous in much of Asia, has stores in only five U.S. states, and nowhere else in the western world. So to see what's behind the success of this Filipino favorite (one hint: fried chicken), head to the mall at Southcenter.

Jollibee at the Westfield Southcenter mall.

Jollibee at the Westfield Southcenter mall. Hugo Kugiya

The Jollibee mascot, a bee 'chef' that clearly signals this is fast food.

The Jollibee mascot, a bee 'chef' that clearly signals this is fast food. Hugo Kugiya

A widely circulated tenet of folk-diplomacy asserts that no two countries that both have McDonald’s franchises will ever wage war against each other.

The premise of the theory, which has been around for at least a few decades, is that war is an act of desperation, of having nothing to lose. And if you have a McDonald’s, then you must have the social and economic infrastructure to support it, and therefore you do have something to lose and would rather not fight a war. Especially if you can happily eat Big Macs and McNuggets with your family instead. Put two countries like that in a conflict and they will probably not try to kill each other to resolve it.

The theory was even given a name by the famous columnist Thomas Friedman, who scrutinized the concept in a column in 1996, the first year McDonald’s earned more money overseas than in the U.S. He called it the Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention. Making exceptions for civil wars, he argued convincingly, at the time, that the theory was pretty solid.

True, Great Britain and Argentina fought a war over the Falkland Islands in 1982, but that was four years before Argentina got its first McDonald’s.

The American military intervention in the former Yugoslavia could be used to counter the theory (in 1988, Yugoslavia became the first Iron Curtain country to get a McDonald’s), but the U.S. was acting as a member of NATO, not on its own.

And true, the U.S. did invade Panama in 1989 in order to overthrow its leader, the dictator Manuel Noriega. And yes, there is the ongoing battle between Lebanon and Israel, but that conflict predated the arrival of McDonald’s in those countries. And then there is the war between Russia and the former Soviet republic of Georgia, but you could argue that’s really a civil war. The bigger point is that the vast majority of countries that have a McDonald’s (about 120) get along just fine.

The even bigger point is that prosperity and shared consumer values go a long way toward keeping the peace in our globalized world (between countries and within them), whether that shared interest comes from having McDonald’s (which made news this week when it announced plans to hire 50,000 people in one day), a mutual love of cricket, or something else.

Like Jollibee, perhaps.

Jollibee is the McDonald’s of the Philippines, a fast-food giant that owns several brands of other fast-food chains. Jollibee is everywhere in the populous and somewhat politically unstable nation of 7,000 islands. Two years ago, the Associated Press reported that the U.S. State Department used the prevalence of Jollibee restaurants as a measure of economic and military security in the Mindanao region, which had become a hotbed of violent, extremist activity.

Organizations with links to al-Qaida had established themselves in Mindanao, whose majority Muslim population resides mostly in poverty. As the U.S. military set out to win hearts and minds there by training Filipino troops and engaging in community development, it also paid attention to where all the Jollibee restaurants were located.

“Where you find a Jollibee, you find enough security,” a U.S. government official told the AP. “You find enough risk appetite by the private sector to begin to invest and create jobs, because ultimately, the issues in Mindanao are not just about security, but they're also about development.”

In sheer size, McDonald’s dwarfs Jollibee. But the Filipino corporation (Jollibee Foods Corporation is the parent company) does own almost 2,000 restaurants in 11 countries, most of them in the Philippines and in Asia. Jollibee also has locations in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, where many Filipino immigrants work.

In the Western world, Jollibee can be found only in the U.S. — and even here, only in five states: Hawaii, California, New York, Nevada, and Washington, where it opened its first and only store last summer in the Westfield Southcenter mall in conjunction with Seafood City, an emporium of Filipino groceries and prepared food (which we wrote about here).


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Apr 25, 12:29 p.m. Inappropriate

Eating at Jollibee is not like eating Grandma’s cooking, nor is it the most deeply authentic experience a diner can have eating Filipino food.

So what? This is emblimatic of a worldview that sees every place outside of the United States as some kind of theme park. I have a friend in Manila. He and his wife and children live in the suburbs. They drive an SUV, and go to the mall on the weekend. THAT, in the year 2011, is authentic. Deal with it.

orino

Posted Mon, Apr 25, 1:33 p.m. Inappropriate

Sometimes what seems least authentic is the most authentic... The more you travel in the "old world" the more you realize that real people there live in pretty unromantic ways, going to the mall, buying things in bulk, shopping at the Gap. I think that's the point you were trying to make Orino? It's well made. Except...I don't understand what the heck you're so angry about?

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