Latest Stories

Jollibee in Queens, Max’s in Jersey City–but why not in mainstream Manhattan?

Out of sight, out of mind? The Korean chain BonChon has 16 US branches to Jollibee’s 27–but it has diverse customers and great reviews


NEW YORK—On Fifth Avenue across the neck-straining Empire State Building are two KFC spots. Here, KFC is not Kentucky Fried Chicken but BonChon and KyoChon, the Korean Fried Chickens to savor in one of the busiest streets in this city.

More than six miles away, oblivious to the Manhattanites waiting for their lunch meal at the Korean hotspots, are Jollibee (on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens) and Max’s Restaurant (on Newark Avenue in Jersey City).

It’s quiet in both Filipino restaurants, as they wait patiently for the weekend, when the crush of Filipino customers come bustling in for a taste of nostalgia.

What is wrong with this picture? One thinks his slice of the world is fine; the other chooses to go beyond and cater to the world.

Filipino enclaves

Three years ago, when Max’s was scouting for locations in the tri-state area, a marketing representative asked for my so-called expert opinion, as I work with Fortune 500 companies in terms of targeting the Filipino community in the US.

I suggested Manhattan, because it’s too obvious a choice for anyone who knows New Yorkers are game for any type of food. More important, perhaps, New York is home to the American media and, if you believe it, the world.

Instead, Max’s opened in Jersey City, another Filipino enclave that you can count on to do brisk business on weekends; too good a business, one has to deal with the limited space and seats.

Filipino restaurants in the US are undersized, even if they’re outside of the pricey rental space like Manhattan. Being Filipino, I thought it was the effect of my spatial limitations to my obvious paucity of means. Because the Philippines is small in land size, people’s creativity come into play.

Commuters can fit in four-to -eight-seat tricycles, for instance. We obviously take pride in making limited space work, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Others may simply view our solutions, however innovative, as lack of foresight and planning.

Comfort zone

But that is beside the point. Our chains, even small eateries, may be earning enough money just targeting Filipinos as customers. It is all up to the different ethnicities in New York then, as I wrote back in 2010, to go beyond their communities and cater to mainstream America—the Middle Eastern food trucks in various city corners, the Chinese restaurants in intersections, the Mexican delis in strategic locations, the Italian pizzas everywhere and, yes, the Korean fried-chicken gastropubs in the busiest streets.

If an American wants Filipino food, he has to go outside of his comfort zone, outside of his neighborhood. Oftentimes they don’t realize there’s a Filipino restaurant in Manhattan, because it has preferred to stay nondescript, almost incognito.

Meanwhile, BonChon now has 16 branches, two in Manhattan within a few blocks—

not bad for a chain that started in Korea only in 2002 and opened its first US outlet four years later. KyoChon, for its part, has 10 chains, the one on Fifth Avenue being its flagship store.

These Korean spots can’t beat Jollibee, though, in terms of number outlets, which is about 27 or so as listed in its website (Max’s listings can’t be found online), since it opened its first store in Daly City in San Francisco back in 1998.

But what they lack in number (for now, at least), they make up for in diverse customers and great reviews. They actually exist in Zagat, both rating Very Good to Excellent in the popular restaurant guide rated now owned by Google.

Last time I checked this month, Jollibee and Max’s are not listed in Zagat in New York and Los Angeles, two very populous Filipino areas.



It may be a simple case of “out of sight, out of mind,” which is unfortunate, because people generally like Jollibee, especially young Filipino-Americans who grew up disliking the cafeteria-style Filipino food here. But all hope is not lost.

We have our young Filipino-American owners of Maharlika. The year-old Maharlika may have found the formula of catering not just to Filipinos but also to Filipino-Americans and non-Filipinos. It is in trendy East Village. It is modernizing home-style Filipino food.

And yes, it brandishes that Filipino concept proudly, unlike others who hide under Asian-American fusion or some gibberish. The other ingredient to success probably rests on one fact that others ignore or feel ashamed of doing: proudly say their restaurant serves Filipino food.

It remains to be seen if Maharlika will have the longevity by carrying the Filipino restaurant label, but if the same owners’ new restaurant called Jeepney 5 blocks away is any indication of its confidence, Filipino food could be finally taking residence in this city.

Jeepney is like BonChon and KyoChon. It’s taking in the gastropub concept of food with beer and wine in a group-friendly bar-like atmosphere while borrowing from the amazing artistry of Filipino food in the Philippines. For Filipinos here, it’s a tribute to what they miss most back home aside from family and friends: the food.

Because our top Philippine-based food cognoscenti can’t join us here, it’s now up to Filipino-Americans to take Filipino food to mainstream America.


Expanding wings

Recently, Sheldon Simeon, a Filipino-American chef, led his team to victory on Bravo’s TV show “Top Chef.” He cooked an all-Filipino meal to the delight of the judges. Simeon and other Filipino-American chefs and restaurant owners should be able to broaden the appeal of Filipino food.

Having the vantage point of seeing from both worlds (being Filipino and American), Filipino-Americans may just help inspire our Philippine-born fast-food joints like Jollibee and Max’s to expand their wings. And it should not be hard to market to non-Filipinos, as savvy as Filipinos are in marketing and advertising.

Filipinos represent the third largest Asian population in the US with only a 300,000 split difference between the Chinese (excluding Taiwanese) and a few thousands with the Indians.

Filipino food as we know it need not be invisible or “blank,” as food adventurer Anthony Bourdain once posed as a question to a Filipino restaurateur in his defunct travel show.

In the New York Times piece about Maharlika called “Authentic Filipino Moderno” (Nov. 15, 2011), it’s quite refreshing to hear food writer-critic Ligaya Mishan ask the question, “Could it be that Filipino food, the underdog of Asian cuisines, is having a moment at last?”

One really hopes so—whether it’s our authentic cuisine or fast-food chains.

Visit americanizewho.com. Contact the author at dennis@americanizewho.com.

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: Food , Jollibee , Lifestyle , Max’s , New York , US

  • mitchjagger

    It all boils down to cost. Jersey and Queens have obviously cheaper rates than Manhattan’s. I guess to compensate for that, Jollibee and Max’s can resort to better PR and marketing in those areas. Nothing beats good publicity when locations simply don’t work, budget-wise.

    • http://twitter.com/dennisclemente Dennis Clemente

      The poorest of the poor find a way to do business in Manhattan

  • DarkSideOfTheMoon2

    i’ll go for manhattan street food than jollibee….

  • cato_the_younger

    It’s most likely that there is no market for sweet spaghetti in the more sophisticated Manhattan. Dark side is correct, I’d rather go to a food truck with exceptional and fresh food than Jollibee. If it’s just burgers, why go to a copycat when you can have the original?
    Speaking of Sheldon, I admire his life story (from dishwasher to one of America’s top chefs) and his courage to elevate Filipino food to the next level. While Filipino food is delicious, to serious foodies, our propensity for brown sauces and stews make it appear as if our food is one note not to mention people really like to identify the meat that they are eating. If we want to promote Filipino food, going the Jollibee route is definitely not the best way to do it.

    • http://twitter.com/dennisclemente Dennis Clemente

      Food need not be formulaic or static; it can change and evolve. For instance, my Chinese friends here say there is really NO beef with broccoli but they introduced it for the American market. It’s also in the mindset. Last Holy Week a Filipino restaurant in NY didn’t serve meat. What would you do if a non-Filipino customer ordered meat?

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
  1. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  2. Miss America: Don’t suspend teen over prom invite
  3. Historic Fort Bonifacio tunnel converted into a septic tank
  4. President Quezon was born here–and so was Philippine surfing
  5. Almost mugged on Chino Roces Avenue
  6. How healing waters accompanied my journey of faith
  7. Palawan favorite getaway of show biz celebrities
  8. ‘Archaeology tour’ of Cebu’s heritage of faith
  9. Transitions and resurrection in the performing arts
  10. Philippine novelist wins US book award amid cancer and ‘Yolanda’
  1. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  2. Are your favorite malls open this Holy Week break?
  3. How Vitamin B can be a remedy for ‘manhid’ and neuropathy
  4. Sarah Geronimo and Matteo Giudicelli sing ‘All of Me’–and we all swoon
  5. 90 percent of Filipino households don’t practice proper toilet hygiene, sanitation
  6. Why is the lifestyle set now afraid to wear jewelry–before Kim Henares?
  7. ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  8. This is not just a farm
  9. 12 other things you can do at Pico de Loro Cove
  10. Marcos grandson to wed beautiful Rocha scion
  1. Mary Jean Lastimosa is new Miss Universe Philippines
  2. Did Angara ruin Pia Wurtzbach’s chances at Bb. Pilipinas?
  3. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  4. Dominique–Gretchen and Tonyboy Cojuangco’s daughter–now an endorser
  5. Manila in shock over model Helena Belmonte’s death
  6. Vinegar test helpful vs cervical cancer
  7. From Jeannie to mom of suicide victim
  8. San Vicente beaches hidden but not for long
  9. Borgy and Georgina are back; others are off–again
  10. Why is the lifestyle set now afraid to wear jewelry–before Kim Henares?


  • Bernice Lee arrested by NBI team
  • Group: Bataan cop killed to stop him from exposing colleagues linked to drug ring
  • Chemical Engineer licensure examination
  • Troubled history fuels Japan-China tension
  • Palace: Our concern is to ensure MRT runs smoothly
  • Sports

  • NLEX fights off Derulo Accelero to remain unbeaten
  • Mayweather diehard Bieber eats pride, poses with Pacquiao for photo op
  • Power Pinays rip Singapore to enter quarters in Asian volley tilt
  • PBA D-League: Waves edge skidding Superchargers
  • Ilad’s last-second basket lifts Gems over Bakers
  • Lifestyle

  • Miss America: Don’t suspend teen over prom invite
  • Transitions and resurrection in the performing arts
  • ‘Archaeology tour’ of Cebu’s heritage of faith
  • Historic Fort Bonifacio tunnel converted into a septic tank
  • ‘Imports’ from London, and play of the year
  • Entertainment

  • Arrest warrants out vs. Deniece Cornejo, Cedric Lee, et al over serious illegal detention
  • Lindsay Lohan says she had a miscarriage
  • Discovery network cancels Everest jump
  • ‘Captain America’ stays strong atop US box office
  • Easter musings
  • Business

  • Century Pacific Food sets IPO price at P13.75 per share
  • Oil prices down in quiet Asian trade
  • Asian shares mixed in holiday-thinned trade
  • BDO seen keen on bidding for Cocobank
  • Bataan freeport investment pledges up 1,302%
  • Technology

  • PH has slowest internet in Southeast Asia
  • Nintendo’s trailblazing Game Boy marks 25th anniversary
  • Nasa’s moon-orbiting robot crashes down
  • Netizens pay respects to Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Nokia recalls 30,000 chargers for Lumia 2520 tablet
  • Opinion

  • Gigi’s home
  • Palace stonewalls on MRT inquiry
  • Couple of things too
  • There is plenty of water behind Wawa Dam
  • Triduum thoughts of a young boy
  • Global Nation

  • Balikatan could spoil peace talks, says militant group
  • DFA officers hold workshop on aiding human traffic victims
  • Canada in communication with PH on toxic wastes
  • Filipinos in Middle East urged not to panic amid MERS-CoV scare
  • Obama on mission to quiet Asia skeptics