On a cold day in New York City, just a short walk from Times Square, a line of people has formed; they're neatly herded by a rope in front of an unassuming building sandwiched between the city's many skyscrapers. A man stands guard by the door, asking individuals how many people are in their party and ushering in just a few at a time.
It isn't the scene outside some hot New York City nightclub. It's lunchtime in Midtown and the crowd is waiting to eat at Manhattan's first Jollibee — suddenly, it's the place to be.
Jollibee, known as "the McDonald's of the Philippines" — where it was founded — has a relatively small presence in the U.S.; there are only 37 stores over a handful of states. But in the Philippines the fast-food chain is an absolute sensation, handily beating McDonald's and Burger King in popularity and local market share. There, Jollibee has more than 750 stores and is a dominant market leader.
Now, Jollibee is aiming to win over more Americans, with plans to grow to 150 stores within the next five years. And it's making progress: Store openings attract crowds (at the October Manhattan location opening a couple showed up 20 hours early to be first in line for a year of free fried chicken), social media influencers love Jollibee, and fans and analysts alike have compared the food to American staples like Kentucky Fried Chicken. Jollibee declines to disclose U.S. sales figures but tells CNBC Make It that it had "record-setting, double-digit sales growth in 2017."